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Title: Calamities and Quarrels of Authors

Author: Isaac Disraeli

Release Date: December 23, 2009 [EBook #30745]

Language: English

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“Such a superiority do the pursuits of Literature possess above every other occupation, that even he who attains but a mediocrity in them, merits the pre-eminence above those that excel the most in the common and vulgar professions.”—Hume.


The Calamities of Authors have often excited the attention of the lovers of literature; and, from the revival of letters to this day, this class of the community, the most ingenious and the most enlightened, have, in all the nations of Europe, been the most honoured, and the least remunerated. Pierius Valerianus, an attendant in the literary court of Leo X., who twice refused a bishopric that he might pursue his studies uninterrupted, was a friend of Authors, and composed a small work, “De Infelicitate Literatorum,” which has been frequently reprinted.[1] It forms a catalogue of several Italian literati, his contemporaries; a meagre performance, in which the author shows sometimes a predilection for the marvellous, which happens so rarely in human affairs; and he is so unphilosophical, that he places among the misfortunes of literary men those fatal casualties to which all men are alike liable. Yet even this small volume has its value: for although the historian confines his narrative to his own times, he includes a sufficient number of names to convince us that to devote our life to authorship is not the true means of improving our happiness or our fortune.

At a later period, a congenial work was composed by Theophilus Spizelius, a German divine; his four volumes are after the fashion of his country and his times, which could make even small things ponderous. In 1680 he first published two 4 volumes, entitled “Infelix Literatus,” and five years afterwards his “Felicissimus Literatus;” he writes without size, and sermonises without end, and seems to have been so grave a lover of symmetry, that he shapes his Felicities just with the same measure as his Infelicities. These two equalised bundles of hay might have held in suspense the casuistical ass of Sterne, till he had died from want of a motive to choose either. Yet Spizelius is not to be contemned because he is verbose and heavy; he has reflected more deeply than Valerianus, by opening the moral causes of those calamities which he describes.[2]

The chief object of the present work is to ascertain some doubtful yet important points concerning Authors. The title of Author still retains its seduction among our youth, and is consecrated by ages. Yet what affectionate parent would consent to see his son devote himself to his pen as a profession? The studies of a true Author insulate him in society, exacting daily labours; yet he will receive but little encouragement, and less remuneration. It will be found that the most successful Author can obtain no equivalent for the labours of his life. I have endeavoured to ascertain this fact, to develope the causes and to paint the variety of evils that naturally result from the disappointments of genius. Authors themselves never discover this melancholy truth till they have yielded to an impulse, and adopted a profession, too late in life to resist the one, or abandon the other. Whoever labours without hope, a painful state to which Authors are at length reduced, may surely be placed among the most injured class in the community. Most Authors close their lives in apathy or despair, and too many live by means which few of them would not blush to describe.

Besides this perpetual struggle with penury, there are also 5 moral causes which influence the literary character. I have drawn the individual characters and feelings of Authors from their own confessions, or deduced them from the prevalent events of their lives; and often discovered them in their secret history, as it floats on tradition, or lies concealed in authentic and original documents. I would paint what has not been unhappily called the psychological character.[3]

I have limited my inquiries to our own country, and generally to recent times; for researches more curious, and eras more distant, would less forcibly act on our sympathy. If, in attempting to avoid the naked brevity of Valerianus, I have taken a more comprehensive view of several of our Authors, it has been with the hope that I was throwing a new light on their characters, or contributing some fresh materials to our literary history. I feel anxious for the fate of the opinions and the feelings which have arisen in the progress and diversity of this work; but whatever their errors may be, it is to them that my readers at least owe the materials of which it is formed; these materials will be received with consideration, as the confessions and statements of genius itself. In mixing them with my own feelings, let me apply a beautiful apologue of the Hebrews—“The clusters of grapes sent out of Babylon implore favour for the exuberant leaves of the vine; for had there been no leaves, you had lost the grapes.”




A great author once surprised me by inquiring what I meant by “an Author by Profession.” He seemed offended at the supposition that I was creating an odious distinction between authors. I was only placing it among their calamities.

The title of Author is venerable; and in the ranks of national glory, authors mingle with its heroes and its patriots. It is indeed by our authors that foreigners have been taught most to esteem us; and this remarkably appears in the expression of Gemelli, the Italian traveller round the world, who wrote about the year 1700; for he told all Europe that “he could find nothing amongst us but our writings to distinguish us from the worst of barbarians.” But to become an “Author by Profession,” is to have no other means of subsistence than such as are extracted from the quill; and no one believes these to be so precarious as they really are, until disappointed, distressed, and thrown out of every pursuit which can maintain independence, the noblest mind is cast into the lot of a doomed labourer.

Literature abounds with instances of “Authors by Profession” accommodating themselves to this condition. By vile artifices of faction and popularity their moral sense is injured, and the literary character sits in that study which he ought to dignify, merely, as one of them sings,

To keep his mutton twirling at the fire.

Another has said, “He is a fool who is a grain honester than the times he lives in.”

Let it not, therefore, be conceived that I mean to degrade or vilify the literary character, when I would only separate 8 the Author from those polluters of the press who have turned a vestal into a prostitute; a grotesque race of famished buffoons or laughing assassins; or that populace of unhappy beings, who are driven to perish in their garrets, unknown and unregarded by all, for illusions which even their calamities cannot disperse. Poverty, said an ancient, is a sacred thing—it is, indeed, so sacred, that it creates a sympathy even for those who have incurred it by their folly, or plead by it for their crimes.

The history of our Literature is instructive—let us trace the origin of characters of this sort among us: some of them have happily disappeared, and, whenever great authors obtain their due rights, the calamities of literature will be greatly diminished.

As for the phrase of “Authors by Profession,” it is said to be of modern origin; and Guthrie, a great dealer in literature, and a political scribe, is thought to have introduced it, as descriptive of a class of writers which he wished to distinguish from the general term. I present the reader with an unpublished letter of Guthrie, in which the phrase will not only be found, but, what is more important, which exhibits the character in its degraded form. It was addressed to a minister.

June 3, 1762.

My Lord,

“In the year 1745-6, Mr. Pelham, then First Lord of the Treasury, acquainted me, that it was his Majesty’s pleasure I should receive, till better provided for, which never has happened, 200l. a-year, to be paid by him and his successors in the Treasury. I was satisfied with the august name made use of, and the appointment has been regularly and quarterly paid me ever since. I have been equally punctual in doing the government all the services that fell within my abilities or sphere of life, especially in those critical situations that call for unanimity in the service of the crown.

“Your Lordship may possibly now suspect that I am an Author by Profession: you are not deceived; and will be less so, if you believe that I am disposed to serve his Majesty under your Lordship’s future patronage and protection, with greater zeal, if possible, than ever.

“I have the honour to be,

“My Lord, &c.,

William Guthrie.”


Unblushing venality! In one part he shouts like a plundering hussar who has carried off his prey; and in the other he bows with the tame suppleness of the “quarterly” Swiss chaffering his halbert for his price;—“to serve his Majesty” for—“his Lordship’s future patronage.”

Guthrie’s notion of “An Author by Profession,” entirely derived from his own character, was twofold; literary taskwork, and political degradation. He was to be a gentleman convertible into an historian, at —— per sheet; and, when he had not time to write histories, he chose to sell his name to those he never wrote. These are mysteries of the craft of authorship; in this sense it is only a trade, and a very bad one! But when in his other capacity, this gentleman comes to hire himself to one lord as he had to another, no one can doubt that the stipendiary would change his principles with his livery.[4]

Such have been some of the “Authors by Profession” who have worn the literary mask; for literature was not the first object of their designs. They form a race peculiar to our country. They opened their career in our first great revolution, and flourished during the eventful period of the civil wars. In the form of newspapers, their “Mercuries” and “Diurnals” were political pamphlets.[5] Of these, the Royalists, being the better educated, carried off to their side all the spirit, and only left the foam and dregs for the Parliamentarians; otherwise, in lying, they were just like one another; for “the father of lies” seems to be of no party! Were it desirable to instruct men by a system of political and moral calumny, the complete art might be drawn from these archives of political lying, during their flourishing era. We might discover principles among them which would have humbled the genius of Machiavel himself, and even have taught Mr. Sheridan’s more popular scribe, Mr. Puff, a sense of his own inferiority.

It is known that, during the administration of Harley and Walpole, this class of authors swarmed and started up like mustard-seed in a hot-bed. More than fifty thousand pounds 10 were expended among them! Faction, with mad and blind passions, can affix a value on the basest things that serve its purpose.[6] These “Authors by Profession” wrote more assiduously the better they were paid; but as attacks only produced replies and rejoinders, to remunerate them was heightening the fever and feeding the disease. They were all fighting for present pay, with a view of the promised land before them; but they at length became so numerous, and so crowded on one another, that the minister could neither satisfy promised claims nor actual dues. He had not at last the humblest office to bestow, not a commissionership of wine licences, as Tacitus Gordon had: not even a collectorship of the customs in some obscure town, as was the wretched worn-out Oldmixon’s pittance;[7] not a crumb for a mouse!

The captain of this banditti in the administration of Walpole was Arnall, a young attorney, whose mature genius for scurrilous party-papers broke forth in his tender nonage. This hireling was “The Free Briton,” and in “The Gazetteer” Francis Walsingham, Esq., abusing the name of a profound statesman. It is said that he received above ten thousand pounds for his obscure labours; and this patriot was suffered to retire with all the dignity which a pension could confer. He not only wrote for hire, but valued himself on it; proud of the pliancy of his pen and of his principles, he wrote without remorse what his patron was forced to pay for, but to disavow. It was from a knowledge of these “Authors by Profession,” writers of a faction in the name of the community, as they have been well described, that our great statesman Pitt fell into an error which he lived to regret. He did not 11 distinguish between authors; he confounded the mercenary with the men of talent and character; and with this contracted view of the political influence of genius, he must have viewed with awe, perhaps with surprise, its mighty labour in the volumes of Burke.

But these “Authors by Profession” sometimes found a retribution of their crimes even from their masters. When the ardent patron was changed into a cold minister, their pen seemed wonderfully to have lost its point, and the feather could not any more tickle. They were flung off, as Shakspeare’s striking imagery expresses it, like

An unregarded bulrush on the stream,
To rot itself with motion.

Look on the fate and fortune of Amhurst. The life of this “Author by Profession” points a moral. He flourished about the year 1730. He passed through a youth of iniquity, and was expelled from his college for his irregularities: he had exhibited no marks of regeneration when he assailed the university with the periodical paper of the Terræ Filius; a witty Saturnalian effusion on the manners and Toryism of Oxford, where the portraits have an extravagant kind of likeness, and are so false and so true that they were universally relished and individually understood. Amhurst, having lost his character, hastened to reform the morals and politics of the nation. For near twenty years he toiled at “The Craftsman,” of which ten thousand are said to have been sold in one day. Admire this patriot! an expelled collegian becomes an outrageous zealot for popular reform, and an intrepid Whig can bend to be yoked to all the drudgery of a faction! Amhurst succeeded in writing out the minister, and writing in Bolingbroke and Pulteney. Now came the hour of gratitude and generosity. His patrons mounted into power—but—they silently dropped the instrument of their ascension. The political prostitute stood shivering at the gate of preferment, which his masters had for ever flung against him. He died broken-hearted, and owed the charity of a grave to his bookseller.

I must add one more striking example of a political author in the case of Dr. James Drake, a man of genius, and an excellent writer. He resigned an honourable profession, that of medicine, to adopt a very contrary one, that of becoming an author by profession for a party. As a Tory writer, he 12 dared every extremity of the law, while he evaded it by every subtlety of artifice; he sent a masked lady with his MS. to the printer, who was never discovered, and was once saved by a flaw in the indictment from the simple change of an r for a t, or nor for not;—one of those shameful evasions by which the law, to its perpetual disgrace, so often protects the criminal from punishment. Dr. Drake had the honour of hearing himself censured from the throne; of being imprisoned; of seeing his “Memorials of the Church of England” burned at London, and his “Historia Anglo-Scotica” at Edinburgh. Having enlisted himself in the pay of the booksellers, among other works, I suspect, he condescended to practise some literary impositions. For he has reprinted Father Parson’s famous libel against the Earl of Leicester in Elizabeth’s reign, under the title of “Secret Memoirs of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1706,” 8vo, with a preface pretending it was printed from an old MS.

Drake was a lover of literature; he left behind him a version of Herodotus, and a “System of Anatomy,” once the most popular and curious of its kind. After all this turmoil of his literary life, neither his masked lady nor the flaws in his indictments availed him. Government brought a writ of error, severely prosecuted him; and, abandoned, as usual, by those for whom he had annihilated a genius which deserved a better fate, his perturbed spirit broke out into a fever, and he died raving against cruel persecutors, and patrons not much more humane.

So much for some of those who have been “Authors by Profession” in one of the twofold capacities which Guthrie designed, that of writing for a minister; the other, that of writing for the bookseller, though far more honourable, is sufficiently calamitous.

In commercial times, the hope of profit is always a stimulating, but a degrading motive; it dims the clearest intellect, it stills the proudest feelings. Habit and prejudice will soon reconcile even genius to the work of money, and to avow the motive without a blush. “An author by profession,” at once ingenious and ingenuous, declared that, “till fame appears to be worth more than money, he would always prefer money to fame.” Johnson had a notion that there existed no motive for writing but money! Yet, crowned heads have sighed with the ambition of authorship, though this great master of the 13 human mind could suppose that on this subject men were not actuated either by the love of glory or of pleasure! Fielding, an author of great genius and of “the profession,” in one of his “Covent-garden Journals” asserts, that “An author, in a country where there is no public provision for men of genius, is not obliged to be a more disinterested patriot than any other. Why is he whose livelihood is in his pen a greater monster in using it to serve himself, than he who uses his tongue for the same purpose?”

But it is a very important question to ask, is this “livelihood in the pen” really such? Authors drudging on in obscurity, and enduring miseries which can never close but with their life—shall this be worth even the humble designation of a “livelihood?” I am not now combating with them whether their taskwork degrades them, but whether they are receiving an equivalent for the violation of their genius, for the weight of the fetters they are wearing, and for the entailed miseries which form an author’s sole legacies to his widow and his children. Far from me is the wish to degrade literature by the inquiry; but it will be useful to many a youth of promising talent, who is impatient to abandon all professions for this one, to consider well the calamities in which he will most probably participate.

Among “Authors by Profession” who has displayed a more fruitful genius, and exercised more intense industry, with a loftier sense of his independence, than Smollett? But look into his life and enter into his feelings, and you will be shocked at the disparity of his situation with the genius of the man. His life was a succession of struggles, vexations, and disappointments, yet of success in his writings. Smollett, who is a great poet, though he has written little in verse, and whose rich genius composed the most original pictures of human life, was compelled by his wants to debase his name by selling it to voyages and translations, which he never could have read. When he had worn himself down in the service of the public or the booksellers, there remained not, of all his slender remunerations, in the last stage of life, sufficient to convey him to a cheap country and a restorative air on the Continent. The father may have thought himself fortunate, that the daughter whom he loved with more than common affection was no more to share in his wants; but the husband had by his side the faithful companion of his life, left without 14 a wreck of fortune. Smollett, gradually perishing in a foreign land,[8] neglected by an admiring public, and without fresh resources from the booksellers, who were receiving the income of his works, threw out his injured feelings in the character of Bramble; the warm generosity of his temper, but not his genius, seemed fleeting with his breath. In a foreign land his widow marked by a plain monument the spot of his burial, and she perished in solitude! Yet Smollett dead—soon an ornamented column is raised at the place of his birth,[9] while the grave of the author seemed to multiply the editions of his works. There are indeed grateful feelings in the public at large for a favourite author; but the awful testimony of those feelings, by its gradual progress, must appear beyond the grave! They visit the column consecrated by his name, and his features are most loved, most venerated, in the bust.

Smollett himself shall be the historian of his own heart; this most successful “Author by Profession,” who, for his subsistence, composed masterworks of genius, and drudged in the toils of slavery, shall himself tell us what happened, and describe that state between life and death, partaking of both, which obscured his faculties and sickened his lofty spirit.

“Had some of those who were pleased to call themselves my friends been at any pains to deserve the character, and told me ingenuously what I had to expect in the capacity of an author, when I first professed myself of that venerable fraternity, I should in all probability have spared myself the incredible labour and chagrin I have since undergone.”

As a relief from literary labour, Smollett once went to revisit his family, and to embrace the mother he loved; but such was the irritation of his mind and the infirmity of his health, exhausted by the hard labours of authorship, that he never passed a more weary summer, nor ever found himself so incapable of indulging the warmest emotions of his heart. 15 On his return, in a letter, he gave this melancholy narrative of himself:—“Between friends, I am now convinced that my brain was in some measure affected; for I had a kind of Coma Vigil upon me from April to November, without intermission. In consideration of this circumstance, I know you will forgive all my peevishness and discontent; tell Mrs. Moore that with regard to me, she has as yet seen nothing but the wrong side of the tapestry.” Thus it happens in the life of authors, that they whose comic genius diffuses cheerfulness, create a pleasure which they cannot themselves participate.

The Coma Vigil may be described by a verse of Shakspeare:—

Still-waking sleep! that is not what it is!

Of praise and censure, says Smollett, in a letter to Dr. Moore, “Indeed I am sick of both, and wish to God my circumstances would allow me to consign my pen to oblivion.” A wish, as fervently repeated by many “Authors by Profession,” who are not so fully entitled as was Smollett to write when he chose, or to have lived in quiet for what he had written. An author’s life is therefore too often deprived of all social comfort whether he be the writer for a minister, or a bookseller—but their case requires to be stated.



Johnson has dignified the booksellers as “the patrons of literature,” which was generous in that great author, who had written well and lived but ill all his life on that patronage. Eminent booksellers, in their constant intercourse with the most enlightened class of the community, that is, with the best authors and the best readers, partake of the intelligence around them; their great capitals, too, are productive of good and evil in literature; useful when they carry on great works, and pernicious when they sanction indifferent ones. Yet are they but commercial men. A trader can never be deemed a patron, for it would be romantic to purchase what is not saleable; and where no favour is conferred, there is no patronage.

Authors continue poor, and booksellers become opulent; an extraordinary result! Booksellers are not agents for authors, 16 but proprietors of their works; so that the perpetual revenues of literature are solely in the possession of the trade.

Is it then wonderful that even successful authors are indigent? They are heirs to fortunes, but by a strange singularity they are disinherited at their birth; for, on the publication of their works, these cease to be their own property. Let that natural property be secured, and a good book would be an inheritance, a leasehold or a freehold, as you choose it; it might at least last out a generation, and descend to the author’s blood, were they permitted to live on their father’s glory, as in all other property they do on his industry.[10] Something of this nature has been instituted in France, where the descendants of Corneille and Molière retain a claim on the theatres whenever the dramas of their great ancestors are performed. In that country, literature has ever received peculiar honours—it was there decreed, in the affair of Crebillon, that literary productions are not seizable by creditors.[11]

The history of literary property in this country might form as ludicrous a narrative as Lucian’s “true history.” It was a long while doubtful whether any such thing existed, at the very time when booksellers were assigning over the perpetual copyrights of books, and making them the subject of family settlements for the provision of their wives and children! When Tonson, in 1739, obtained an injunction to restrain 17 another bookseller from printing Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” he brought into court as a proof of his title an assignment of the original copyright, made over by the sublime poet in 1667, which was read. Milton received for this assignment the sum which we all know—Tonson and all his family and assignees rode in their carriages with the profits of the five-pound epic.[12]

The verbal and tasteless lawyers, not many years past, with legal metaphysics, wrangled like the schoolmen, inquiring of each other, “whether the style and ideas of an author were tangible things; or if these were a property, how is possession to be taken, or any act of occupancy made on mere intellectual ideas.” Nothing, said they, can be an object of property but which has a corporeal substance; the air and the light, to which they compared an author’s ideas, are common to all; ideas in the MS. state were compared to birds in a cage; while the author confines them in his own dominion, none but he has a right to let them fly; but the moment he allows the bird to escape from his hand, it is no violation of property in any one to make it his own. And to prove that there existed no property after publication, they found an analogy in the gathering of acorns, or in seizing on a vacant piece of ground; and thus degrading that most refined piece of art formed in the highest state of society, a literary production, they brought us back to a state of nature; and seem to have concluded that literary property was purely ideal; a phantom which, as its author could neither grasp nor confine 18 to himself, he must entirely depend on the public benevolence for his reward.[13]

The Ideas, that is, the work of an author, are “tangible things.” “There are works,” to quote the words of a near and dear relative, “which require great learning, great industry, great labour, and great capital, in their preparation. They assume a palpable form. You may fill warehouses with them, and freight ships; and the tenure by which they are held is superior to that of all other property, for it is original. It is tenure which does not exist in a doubtful title; which does not spring from any adventitious circumstances; it is not found—it is not purchased—it is not prescriptive—it is original; so it is the most natural of all titles, because it is the most simple and least artificial. It is paramount and sovereign, because it is a tenure by creation.”[14]

There were indeed some more generous spirits and better philosophers fortunately found on the same bench; and the identity of a literary composition was resolved into its sentiments and language, besides what was more obviously valuable to some persons, the print and paper. On this slight principle was issued the profound award which accorded a certain term of years to any work, however immortal. They could not diminish the immortality of a book, but only its reward. In all the litigations respecting literary property, authors were little considered—except some honourable testimonies due to genius, from the sense of Willes, and the eloquence of Mansfield. Literary property was still disputed, like the rights of a parish common. An honest printer, who could not always write grammar, had the shrewdness to make a bold effort in this scramble, and perceiving that even by this last favourable award all literary property would necessarily centre with the booksellers, now stood forward for his own body—the printers. This rough advocate observed that “a few persons who call themselves booksellers, about the number of twenty-five, have kept the monopoly of books and copies in their hands, to the entire exclusion of all others, but more especially the printers, whom they have always held it a rule never to let become purchasers in copy.” Not a word for the authors! As for them, they were doomed by both parties as the fat oblation: they indeed sent forth some meek bleatings; 19 but what were AUTHORS, between judges, booksellers, and printers? the sacrificed among the sacrificers!

All this was reasoning in a circle. Literary property in our nation arose from a new state of society. These lawyers could never develope its nature by wild analogies, nor discover it in any common-law right; for our common law, composed of immemorial customs, could never have had in its contemplation an object which could not have existed in barbarous periods. Literature, in its enlarged spirit, certainly never entered into the thoughts or attention of our rude ancestors. All their views were bounded by the necessaries of life; and as yet they had no conception of the impalpable, invisible, yet sovereign dominion of the human mind—enough for our rough heroes was that of the seas! Before the reign of Henry VIII. great authors composed occasionally a book in Latin, which none but other great authors cared for, and which the people could not read. In the reign of Elizabeth, Roger Ascham appeared—one of those men of genius born to create a new era in the history of their nation. The first English author who may be regarded as the founder of our prose style was Roger Ascham, the venerable parent of our native literature. At a time when our scholars affected to contemn the vernacular idiom, and in their Latin works were losing their better fame, that of being understood by all their countrymen, Ascham boldly avowed the design of setting an example, in his own words, TO SPEAK AS THE COMMON PEOPLE, TO THINK AS WISE MEN. His pristine English is still forcible without pedantry, and still beautiful without ornament.[15] The illustrious Bacon condescended to follow this new example in the most popular of his works. This change in our literature was like a revelation; these men taught us our language in books. We became a reading people; and then the demand for books naturally produced a new order of authors, who traded in literature. It was then, so early as in the Elizabethan age, that literary property may be said to derive its obscure origin in this nation. It was protected in an indirect manner by the licensers of the press; for although that was a mere political institution, only designed to prevent seditious and irreligious publications, yet, as no book could be printed without a licence, there was honour enough in the licensers not to allow other publishers 20 to infringe on the privilege granted to the first claimant. In Queen Anne’s time, when the office of licensers was extinguished, a more liberal genius was rising in the nation, and literary property received a more definite and a more powerful protection. A limited term was granted to every author to reap the fruits of his labours; and Lord Hardwicke pronounced this statute “a universal patent for authors.” Yet, subsequently, the subject of literary property involved discussion; even at so late a period as in 1769 it was still to be litigated. It was then granted that originally an author had at common law a property in his work, but that the act of Anne took away all copyright after the expiration of the terms it permitted.

As the matter now stands, let us address an arithmetical age—but my pen hesitates to bring down my subject to an argument fitted to “these coster-monger times.”[16] On the present principle of literary property, it results that an author disposes of a leasehold property of twenty-eight years, often for less than the price of one year’s purchase! How many living authors are the sad witnesses of this fact, who, like so many Esaus, have sold their inheritance for a meal! I leave the whole school of Adam Smith to calm their calculating emotions concerning “that unprosperous race of men” (sometimes this master-seer calls them “unproductive”) “commonly called men of letters,” who are pretty much in the situation which lawyers and physicians would be in, were these, as he tells us, in that state when “a scholar and a beggar seem to have been very nearly synonymous terms”—and this melancholy fact that man of genius discovered, without the feather of his pen brushing away a tear from his lid—without one spontaneous and indignant groan!

Authors may exclaim, “we ask for justice, not charity.” They would not need to require any favour, nor claim any other than that protection which an enlightened government, in its wisdom and its justice, must bestow. They would leave to the public disposition the sole appreciation of their works; their book must make its own fortune; a bad work may be cried up, and a good work may be cried down; 21 but Faction will soon lose its voice, and Truth acquire one. The cause we are pleading is not the calamities of indifferent writers, but of those whose utility or whose genius long survives that limited term which has been so hardly wrenched from the penurious hand of verbal lawyers. Every lover of literature, and every votary of humanity has long felt indignant at that sordid state and all those secret sorrows to which men of the finest genius, or of sublime industry, are reduced and degraded in society. Johnson himself, who rejected that perpetuity of literary property which some enthusiasts seemed to claim at the time the subject was undergoing the discussion of the judges, is, however, for extending the copyright to a century. Could authors secure this, their natural right, literature would acquire a permanent and a nobler reward; for great authors would then be distinguished by the very profits they would receive from that obscure multitude whose common disgraces they frequently participate, notwithstanding the superiority of their own genius. Johnson himself will serve as a proof of the incompetent remuneration of literary property. He undertook and he performed an Herculean labour, which employed him so many years that the price he obtained was exhausted before the work was concluded—the wages did not even last as long as the labour! Where, then, is the author to look forward, when such works are undertaken, for a provision for his family, or for his future existence? It would naturally arise from the work itself, were authors not the most ill-treated and oppressed class of the community. The daughter of Milton need not have craved the alms of the admirers of her father, if the right of authors had been better protected; his own “Paradise Lost” had then been her better portion and her most honourable inheritance. The children of Burns would have required no subscriptions; that annual tribute which the public pay to the genius of their parent was their due, and would have been their fortune.

Authors now submit to have a shorter life than their own celebrity. While the book markets of Europe are supplied with the writings of English authors, and they have a wider diffusion in America than at home, it seems a national ingratitude to limit the existence of works for their authors to a short number of years, and then to seize on their possession for ever.



The natural rights and properties of AUTHORS not having been sufficiently protected, they are defrauded, not indeed of their fame, though they may not always live to witness it, but of their uninterrupted profits, which might save them from their frequent degradation in society. That act of Anne which confers on them some right of property, acknowledges that works of learned men have been carried on “too often to the ruin of them and their families.”

Hence we trace a literary calamity which the public endure in those “Authors by Profession,” who, finding often too late in life that it is the worst profession, are not scrupulous to live by some means or other. “I must live,” cried one of the brotherhood, shrugging his shoulders in his misery, and almost blushing for a libel he had just printed—“I do not see the necessity,” was the dignified reply. Trade was certainly not the origin of authorship. Most of our great authors have written from a more impetuous impulse than that of a mechanic; urged by a loftier motive than that of humouring the popular taste, they have not lowered themselves by writing down to the public, but have raised the public to them. Untasked, they composed at propitious intervals; and feeling, not labour, was in their last, as in their first page.

When we became a reading people, books were to be suited to popular tastes, and then that trade was opened that leads to the workhouse. A new race sprang up, that, like Ascham, “spoke as the common people;” but would not, like Ascham, “think as wise men.” The founders of “Authors by Profession” appear as far back as in the Elizabethan age. Then there were some roguish wits, who, taking advantage of the public humour, and yielding their principle to their pen, lived to write, and wrote to live; loose livers and loose writers!—like Autolycus, they ran to the fair, with baskets of hasty manufactures, fit for clowns and maidens.[17]


Even then flourished the craft of authorship, and the mysteries of bookselling. Robert Greene, the master-wit, wrote “The Art of Coney-catching,” or Cheatery, in which he was an adept; he died of a surfeit of Rhenish and pickled herrings, at a fatal banquet of authors;—and left as his legacy among the “Authors by Profession” “A Groatsworth of Wit, bought with a Million of Repentance.” One died of another kind of surfeit. Another was assassinated in a brothel. But the list of the calamities of all these worthies have as great variety as those of the Seven Champions.[18] Nor were the stationers, or book-venders, as the publishers of books were first designated, at a fault in the mysteries of “coney-catching.” Deceptive and vaunting title-pages were practised to such excess, that Tom Nash, an “Author by Profession,” never fastidiously modest, blushed at the title of his “Pierce Pennilesse,” which the publisher had flourished in the first edition, like “a tedious mountebank.” The booksellers forged great names to recommend their works, and passed off in currency their base metal stamped with a royal head. “It was an usual thing in those days,” says honest Anthony Wood, “to set a great name to a book or books, by the sharking booksellers or snivelling writers, to get bread.”

Such authors as these are unfortunate, before they are criminal; they often tire out their youth before they discover that “Author by Profession” is a denomination ridiculously assumed, for it is none! The first efforts of men of genius are usually honourable ones; but too often they suffer that genius to be debased. Many who would have composed history have turned voluminous party-writers; many a noble satirist has become a hungry libeller. Men who are starved 24 in society, hold to it but loosely. They are the children of Nemesis! they avenge themselves—and with the Satan of Milton they exclaim,

Evil, be thou my good!

Never were their feelings more vehemently echoed than by this Nash—the creature of genius, of famine, and despair. He lived indeed in the age of Elizabeth, but writes as if he had lived in our own. He proclaimed himself to the world as Pierce Pennilesse, and on a retrospect of his literary life, observes that he had “sat up late and rose early, contended with the cold, and conversed with scarcitie;” he says, “all my labours turned to losse,—I was despised and neglected, my paines not regarded, or slightly rewarded, and I myself, in prime of my best wit, laid open to povertie. Whereupon I accused my fortune, railed on my patrons, bit my pen, rent my papers, and raged.”—And then comes the after-reflection, which so frequently provokes the anger of genius: “How many base men that wanted those parts I had, enjoyed content at will, and had wealth at command! I called to mind a cobbler that was worth five hundred pounds; an hostler that had built a goodly inn; a carman in a leather pilche that had whipt a thousand pound out of his horse’s tail—and have I more than these? thought I to myself; am I better born? am I better brought up? yea, and better favoured! and yet am I a beggar? How am I crost, or whence is this curse? Even from hence, the men that should employ such as I am, are enamoured of their own wits, though they be never so scurvie; that a scrivener is better paid than a scholar; and men of art must seek to live among cormorants, or be kept under by dunces, who count it policy to keep them bare to follow their books the better.” And then, Nash thus utters the cries of—


Why is’t damnation to despair and die
 When life is my true happiness’ disease?
My soul! my soul! thy safety makes me fly
 The faulty means that might my pain appease;
Divines and dying men may talk of hell;
But in my heart her several torments dwell.

Ah worthless wit, to train me to this woe!
 Deceitful arts that nourish discontent!
Ill thrive the folly that bewitch’d me so!
 Vain thoughts, adieu! for now I will repent;
And yet my wants persuade me to proceed,
Since none take pity of a scholar’s need!—
Forgive me, God, although I curse my birth,
 And ban the air wherein I breathe a wretch!
For misery hath daunted all my mirth—
Without redress complains my careless verse,
 And Midas’ ears relent not at my moan!
In some far land will I my griefs rehearse,
 ’Mongst them that will be moved when I shall groan!
England, adieu! the soil that brought me forth!
Adieu, unkinde! where skill is nothing worth!

Such was the miserable cry of an “Author by Profession” in the reign of Elizabeth. Nash not only renounces his country in his despair—and hesitates on “the faulty means” which have appeased the pangs of many of his unhappy brothers, but he proves also the weakness of the moral principle among these men of genius; for he promises, if any Mæcenas will bind him by his bounty, he will do him “as much honour as any poet of my beardless years in England—but,” he adds, “if he be sent away with a flea in his ear, let him look that I will rail on him soundly; not for an hour or a day, while the injury is fresh in my memory, but in some elaborate polished poem, which I will leave to the world when I am dead, to be a living image to times to come of his beggarly parsimony.” Poets might imagine that Chatterton had written all this, about the time he struck a balance of his profit and loss by the death of Beckford the Lord Mayor, in which he concludes with “I am glad he is dead by 3l. 13s. 6d.[19]



It must be confessed, that before “Authors by Profession” had fallen into the hands of the booksellers, they endured peculiar grievances. They were pitiable retainers of some 26 great family. The miseries of such an author, and the insolence and penuriousness of his patrons, who would not return the poetry they liked and would not pay for, may be traced in the eventful life of Thomas Churchyard, a poet of the age of Elizabeth, one of those unfortunate men who have written poetry all their days, and lived a long life to complete the misfortune. His muse was so fertile, that his works pass all enumeration. He courted numerous patrons, who valued the poetry, while they left the poet to his own miserable contemplations. In a long catalogue of his works, which this poet has himself given, he adds a few memoranda, as he proceeds, a little ludicrous, but very melancholy. He wrote a book which he could never afterwards recover from one of his patrons, and adds, “all which book was in as good verse as ever I made; an honourable knight dwelling in the Black Friers can witness the same, because I read it unto him.” Another accorded him the same remuneration—on which he adds, “An infinite number of other songs and sonnets given where they cannot be recovered, nor purchase any favour when they are craved.” Still, however, he announces “Twelve long Tales for Christmas, dedicated to twelve honourable lords.” Well might Churchyard write his own sad life, under the title of “The Tragicall Discourse of the Haplesse Man’s Life.”[20]

It will not be easy to parallel this pathetic description of the wretched age of a poor neglected poet mourning over a youth vainly spent.

High time it is to haste my carcase hence:
Youth stole away and felt no kind of joy,
And age he left in travail ever since;
The wanton days that made me nice and coy
Were but a dream, a shadow, and a toy—
I look in glass, and find my cheeks so lean
That every hour I do but wish me dead;
Now back bends down, and forwards falls the head,
And hollow eyes in wrinkled brow doth shroud
As though two stars were creeping under cloud.

The lips wax cold, and look both pale and thin,
The teeth fall out as nutts forsook the shell,
The bare bald head but shows where hair hath been,
The lively joints wax weary, stiff, and still,
The ready tongue now falters in his tale;
The courage quails as strength decays and goes....

The thatcher hath a cottage poor you see:
The shepherd knows where he shall sleep at night;
The daily drudge from cares can quiet be:
Thus fortune sends some rest to every wight;
And I was born to house and land by right....

Well, ere my breath my body do forsake
My spirit I bequeath to God above;
My books, my scrawls, and songs that I did make,
I leave with friends that freely did me love....

Now, friends, shake hands, I must be gone, my boys!
Our mirth takes end, our triumph all is done;
Our tickling talk, our sports and merry toys
Do glide away like shadow of the sun.
Another comes when I my race have run,
Shall pass the time with you in better plight,
And find good cause of greater things to write.

Yet Churchyard was no contemptible bard; he composed a national poem, “The Worthiness of Wales,” which has been reprinted, and will be still dear to his “Fatherland,” as the Hollanders expressively denote their natal spot. He wrote in the “Mirrour of Magistrates,” the Life of Wolsey, which has parts of great dignity; and the Life of Jane Shore, which was much noticed in his day, for a severe critic of the times writes:

Hath not Shore’s wife, although a light-skirt she,
Given him a chaste, long, lasting memorie?

Churchyard, and the miseries of his poetical life, are alluded to by Spenser. He is old Palemon in “Colin Clout’s come Home again.” Spenser is supposed to describe this laborious writer for half a century, whose melancholy pipe, in his old age, may make the reader “rew:”

Yet he himself may rewed be more right,
That sung so long untill quite hoarse he grew.


His epitaph, preserved by Camden, is extremely instructive to all poets, could epitaphs instruct them:—

Poverty and poetry his tomb doth inclose;
Wherefore, good neighbours, be merry in prose.

It appears also by a confession of Tom Nash, that an author would then, pressed by the res angusta domi, when “the bottom of his purse was turned upward,” submit to compose pieces for gentlemen who aspired to authorship. He tells us on some occasion, that he was then in the country composing poetry for some country squire;—and says, “I am faine to let my plow stand still in the midst of a furrow, to follow these Senior Fantasticos, to whose amorous villanellas[21] I prostitute my pen,” and this, too, “twice or thrice in a month;” and he complains that it is “poverty which alone maketh me so unconstant to my determined studies, trudging from place to place to and fro, and prosecuting the means to keep me from idlenesse.” An author was then much like a vagrant.

Even at a later period, in the reign of the literary James, great authors were reduced to a state of mendicity, and lived on alms, although their lives and their fortunes had been consumed in forming national labours. The antiquary Stowe exhibits a striking example of the rewards conferred on such valued authors. Stowe had devoted his life, and exhausted his patrimony, in the study of English antiquities; he had travelled on foot throughout the kingdom, inspecting all monuments of antiquity, and rescuing what he could from the dispersed libraries of the monasteries. His stupendous collections, in his own handwriting, still exist, to provoke the feeble industry of literary loiterers. He felt through life the enthusiasm of study; and seated in his monkish library, living with the dead more than with the living, he was still a student of taste: for Spenser the poet visited the library of Stowe; and the first good edition of Chaucer was made so chiefly by the labours of our author. Late in life, worn-out with study and the cares of poverty, neglected by that proud metropolis of which he had been the historian, his good-humour did not desert him; for being afflicted with sharp pains in his aged feet, he observed that “his affliction lay in that part which formerly he had made so much use of.” 29 Many a mile had he wandered and much had he expended, for those treasures of antiquities which had exhausted his fortune, and with which he had formed works of great public utility. It was in his eightieth year that Stowe at length received a public acknowledgment of his services, which will appear to us of a very extraordinary nature. He was so reduced in his circumstances that he petitioned James I. for a licence to collect alms for himself! “as a recompense for his labours and travel of forty-five years, in setting forth the Chronicles of England, and eight years taken up in the Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, towards his relief now in his old age; having left his former means of living, and only employing himself for the service and good of his country.” Letters-patent under the great seal were granted. After no penurious commendations of Stowe’s labours, he is permitted “to gather the benevolence of well-disposed people within this realm of England; to ask, gather, and take the alms of all our loving subjects.” These letters-patent were to be published by the clergy from their pulpits; they produced so little, that they were renewed for another twelvemonth: one entire parish in the city contributed seven shillings and sixpence! Such, then, was the patronage received by Stowe, to be a licensed beggar throughout the kingdom for one twelvemonth! Such was the public remuneration of a man who had been useful to his nation, but not to himself!

Such was the first age of Patronage, which branched out in the last century into an age of Subscriptions, when an author levied contributions before his work appeared; a mode which inundated our literature with a great portion of its worthless volumes: of these the most remarkable are the splendid publications of Richard Blome; they may be called fictitious works; for they are only mutilated transcripts from Camden and Speed, but richly ornamented, and pompously printed, which this literary adventurer, said to have been a gentleman, loaded the world with, by the aid of his subscribers. Another age was that of Dedications,[22] when the 30 author was to lift his tiny patron to the skies, in an inverse ratio as he lowered himself, in this public exhibition. Sometimes the party haggled about the price;[23] or the statue, while stepping into his niche, would turn round on the author to assist his invention. A patron of Peter Motteux, dissatisfied with Peter’s colder temperament, composed the superlative dedication to himself, and completed the misery of the author by subscribing it with Motteux’s name![24] Worse fared it when authors were the unlucky hawkers of their own works; of which I shall give a remarkable instance in Myles Davies, a learned man maddened by want and indignation.

The subject before us exhibits one of the most singular spectacles in these volumes; that of a scholar of extensive erudition, whose life seems to have passed in the study of languages and the sciences, while his faculties appear to have been disordered from the simplicity of his nature, and driven to madness by indigence and insult. He formed the wild resolution of becoming a mendicant author, the hawker of his own works; and by this mode endured all the aggravated sufferings, the great and the petty insults of all ranks of society, 31 and even sometimes from men of learning themselves, who denied a mendicant author the sympathy of a brother.

Myles Davies and his works are imperfectly known to the most curious of our literary collectors. His name has scarcely reached a few; the author and his works are equally extraordinary, and claim a right to be preserved in this treatise on the “Calamities of Authors.”

Our author commenced printing a work, difficult, from its miscellaneous character, to describe; of which the volumes appeared at different periods. The early and the most valuable volumes were the first and second; they are a kind of bibliographical, biographical, and critical work, on English Authors. They all bear a general title of “Athenæ Britannicæ.”[25]

Collectors have sometimes met with a very curious volume, entitled “Icon Libellorum,” and sometimes the same book, under another title—“A Critical History of Pamphlets.” This rare book forms the first volume of the “Athenæ Britannicæ.” The author was Myles Davies, whose biography is quite unknown: he may now be his own biographer. He was a Welsh clergyman, a vehement foe to Popery, Arianism, and Socinianism, of the most fervent loyalty to George I. and the Hanoverian succession; a scholar, skilled in Greek and Latin, and in all the modern languages. Quitting his native spot with political disgust, he changed his character in the metropolis, for he subscribes himself “Counsellor-at-Law.” In an evil hour he commenced author, not only surrounded by his books, but with the more urgent companions of a wife 32 and family; and with that childlike simplicity which sometimes marks the mind of a retired scholar, we perceive him imagining that his immense reading would prove a source, not easily exhausted, for their subsistence.

From the first volumes of his series much curious literary history may be extracted, amidst the loose and wandering elements of this literary chaos. In his dedication to the Prince he professes “to represent writers and writings in a catoptrick view.”

The preface to the second volume opens his plan; and nothing as yet indicates those rambling humours which his subsequent labours exhibit.

As he proceeded in forming these volumes, I suspect, either that his mind became a little disordered, or that he discovered that mere literature found but penurious patrons in “the Few;” for, attempting to gain over all classes of society, he varied his investigations, and courted attention, by writing on law, physic, divinity, as well as literary topics. By his account—

“The avarice of booksellers, and the stinginess of hard-hearted patrons, had driven him into a cursed company of door-keeping herds, to meet the irrational brutality of those uneducated mischievous animals called footmen, house-porters, poetasters, mumpers, apothecaries, attorneys, and such like beasts of prey,” who were, like himself, sometimes barred up for hours in the menagerie of a great man’s antechamber. In his addresses to Drs. Mead and Freind, he declares—“My misfortunes drive me to publish my writings for a poor livelihood; and nothing but the utmost necessity could make any man in his senses to endeavour at it, in a method so burthensome to the modesty and education of a scholar.”

In French he dedicates to George I.; and in the Harleian MSS. I discovered a long letter to the Earl of Oxford, by our author, in French, with a Latin ode. Never was more innocent bribery proffered to a minister! He composed what he calls Stricturæ Pindaricæ on the “Mughouses,” then political clubs;[26] celebrates English authors in the same odes, 33 and inserts a political Latin drama, called “Pallas Anglicana.” Mævius and Bavius were never more indefatigable! The author’s intellect gradually discovers its confusion amidst the loud cries of penury and despair.

To paint the distresses of an author soliciting alms for a book which he presents—and which, whatever may be its value, comes at least as an evidence that the suppliant is a learned man—is a case so uncommon, that the invention of the novelist seems necessary to fill up the picture. But Myles Davies is an artist in his own simple narrative.

Our author has given the names of several of his unwilling customers:—

“Those squeeze-farthing and hoard-penny ignoramus doctors, with several great personages who formed excuses for not accepting my books; or they would receive them, but give nothing for them; or else deny they had them, or remembered anything of them; and so gave me nothing for my last present of books, though they kept them gratis et ingratiis.

“But his Grace of the Dutch extraction in Holland (said to be akin to Mynheer Vander B—nck) had a peculiar grace in receiving my present of books and odes, which, being bundled up together with a letter and ode upon his Graceship, and carried in by his porter, I was bid to call for an answer five years hence. I asked the porter what he meant by that? I suppose, said he, four or five days hence; but it proved five or six months after, before I could get any answer, though I had writ five or six letters in French with fresh odes upon his Graceship, and an account where I lived, and what noblemen had accepted of my present. I attended about the door three or four times a week all that time constantly from twelve to four or five o’clock in the evening; and walking under the fore windows of the parlours, once that time his and her Grace came after dinner to stare at me, with open 34 windows and shut mouths, but filled with fair water, which they spouted with so much dexterity that they twisted the water through their teeth and mouth-skrew, to flash near my face, and yet just to miss me, though my nose could not well miss the natural flavour of the orange-water showering so very near me. Her Grace began the water-work, but not very gracefully, especially for an English lady of her description, airs, and qualities, to make a stranger her spitting-post, who had been guilty of no other offence than to offer her husband some writings.—His Grace followed, yet first stood looking so wistfully towards me, that I verily thought he had a mind to throw me a guinea or two for all these indignities, and two or three months’ then sleeveless waiting upon him—and accordingly I advanced to address his Grace to remember the poor author; but, instead of an answer, he immediately undams his mouth, out fly whole showers of lymphatic rockets, which had like to have put out my mortal eyes.”

Still he was not disheartened, and still applied for his bundle of books, which were returned to him at length unopened, with “half a guinea upon top of the cargo,” and “with a desire to receive no more. I plucked up courage, murmuring within myself—

‘Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.’”

He sarcastically observes,

“As I was still jogging on homewards, I thought that a great many were called their Graces, not for any grace or favour they had truly deserved with God or man, but for the same reason of contraries, that the Parcæ or Destinies, were so called, because they spared none, or were not truly the Parcæ, quia non parcebant.”

Our indigent and indignant author, by the faithfulness of his representations, mingles with his anger some ludicrous scenes of literary mendicity.

“I can’t choose (now I am upon the fatal subject) but make one observation or two more upon the various rencontres and adventures I met withall, in presenting my books to those who were likely to accept of them for their own information, or for that of helping a poor scholar, or for their own vanity or ostentation.

“Some parsons would hollow to raise the whole house and posse of the domestics to raise a poor crown; at last all that flutter ends in sending Jack or Tom out to change a guinea, 35 and then ’tis reckoned over half-a-dozen times before the fatal crown can be picked out, which must be taken as it is given, with all the parade of almsgiving, and so to be received with all the active and passive ceremonial of mendication and alms-receiving—as if the books, printing and paper, were worth nothing at all, and as if it were the greatest charity for them to touch them or let them be in the house; ‘For I shall never read them,’ says one of the five-shilling-piece chaps; ‘I have no time to look in them,’ says another; ‘’Tis so much money lost,’ says a grave dean; ‘My eyes being so bad,’ said a bishop, ‘that I can scarce read at all.’ ‘What do you want with me?’ said another; ‘Sir, I presented you the other day with my Athenæ Britannicæ, being the last part published.’ ‘I don’t want books, take them again; I don’t understand what they mean.’ ‘The title is very plain,’ said I, ‘and they are writ mostly in English.’ ‘I’ll give you a crown for both the volumes.’ ‘They stand me, sir, in more than that, and ’tis for a bare subsistence I present or sell them; how shall I live?’ ‘I care not a farthing for that; live or die, ’tis all one to me.’ ‘Damn my master!’ said Jack, ‘’twas but last night he was commending your books and your learning to the skies; and now he would not care if you were starving before his eyes; nay, he often makes game at your clothes, though he thinks you the greatest scholar in England.’”

Such was the life of a learned mendicant author! The scenes which are here exhibited appear to have disordered an intellect which had never been firm; in vain our author attempted to adapt his talents to all orders of men, still “To the crazy ship all winds are contrary.”



The mind of Cowley was beautiful, but a querulous tenderness in his nature breathes not only through his works, but influenced his habits and his views of human affairs. His temper and his genius would have opened to us, had not the strange decision of Sprat and Clifford withdrawn that full correspondence of his heart which he had carried on many years. These letters were suppressed because, as Bishop Sprat acknowledges, “in this kind of prose Mr. 36 Cowley was excellent! They had a domestical plainness, and a peculiar kind of familiarity.” And then the florid writer runs off, that, “in letters, where the souls of men should appear undressed, in that negligent habit they may be fit to be seen by one or two in a chamber, but not to go abroad into the streets.” A false criticism: which not only has proved to be so since their time by Mason’s “Memoirs of Gray,” but which these friends of Cowley might have themselves perceived, if they had recollected that the Letters of Cicero to Atticus form the most delightful chronicles of the heart—and the most authentic memorials of the man. Peck obtained one letter of Cowley’s, preserved by Johnson, and it exhibits a remarkable picture of the miseries of his poetical solitude. It is, perhaps, not too late to inquire whether this correspondence was destroyed as well as suppressed? Would Sprat and Clifford have burned what they have told us they so much admired?[27]


Fortunately for our literary sympathy, the fatal error of these fastidious critics has been in some degree repaired by the admirable genius himself whom they have injured. When Cowley retreated from society, he determined to draw up an apology for his conduct, and to have dedicated it to his patron, Lord St. Albans. His death interrupted the entire design; but his Essays, which Pope so finely calls “the language of his heart,” are evidently parts of these precious Confessions. All of Cowley’s tenderest and undisguised feelings have therefore not perished. These Essays now form a species of composition in our language, a mixture of prose and verse—the man with the poet—the self-painter has sat to himself, and, with the utmost simplicity, has copied out the image of his soul.

Why has this poet twice called himself the melancholy Cowley? He employed no poetical cheville[28] for the metre of a verse which his own feelings inspired.

Cowley, at the beginning of the Civil War, joined the Royalists at Oxford; followed the queen to Paris; yielded his days and his nights to an employment of the highest confidence, that of deciphering the royal correspondence; he transacted their business, and, almost divorcing himself from his neglected muse, he yielded up for them the tranquillity so necessary to the existence of a poet. From his earliest days he tells us how the poetic affections had stamped themselves on his heart, “like letters cut into the bark of a young tree, which, with the tree, will grow proportionably.”

He describes his feelings at the court:—

“I saw plainly all the paint of that kind of life the nearer I came to it—that beauty which I did not fall in love with when, for aught I knew, it was real, was not like to bewitch or 38 entice me when I saw it was adulterate. I met with several great persons whom I liked very well, but could not perceive that any part of their greatness was to be liked or desired. I was in a crowd of good company, in business of great and honourable trust; I eat at the best table, and enjoyed the best conveniences that ought to be desired by a man of my condition; yet I could not abstain from renewing my old schoolboy’s wish, in a copy of verses to the same effect:—

Well then! I now do plainly see,
This busie world and I shall ne’er agree!”

After several years’ absence from his native country, at a most critical period, he was sent over to mix with that trusty band of loyalists, who, in secrecy and in silence, were devoting themselves to the royal cause. Cowley was seized on by the ruling powers. At this moment he published a preface to his works, which some of his party interpreted as a relaxation of his loyalty. He has been fully defended. Cowley, with all his delicacy of temper, wished sincerely to retire from all parties; and saw enough among the fiery zealots of his own, to grow disgusted even with Royalists.

His wish for retirement has been half censured as cowardice by Johnson; but there was a tenderness of feeling which had ill-formed Cowley for the cunning of party intriguers, and the company of little villains. About this time he might have truly distinguished himself as “The melancholy Cowley.”

I am only tracing his literary history for the purpose of this work: but I cannot pass without noticing the fact, that this abused man, whom his enemies were calumniating, was at this moment, under the disguise of a doctor of physic, occupied by the novel studies of botany and medicine; and as all science in the mind of the poet naturally becomes poetry, he composed his books on plants in Latin verse.

At length came the Restoration, which the poet zealously celebrated in his “Ode” on that occasion. Both Charles the First and Second had promised to reward his fidelity with the mastership of the Savoy; but, Wood says, “he lost it by certain persons enemies of the muses.” Wood has said no more; and none of Cowley’s biographers have thrown any light on the circumstance: perhaps we may discover this literary calamity.

That Cowley caught no warmth from that promised sunshine 39 which the new monarch was to scatter in prodigal gaiety, has been distinctly told by the poet himself; his muse, in “The Complaint,” having reproached him thus:—

Thou young prodigal, who didst so loosely waste
Of all thy youthful years, the good estate—
Thou changeling then, bewitch’d with noise and show,
Wouldst into courts and cities from me go—
Go, renegado, cast up thy account—
Behold the public storm is spent at last;
The sovereign is toss’d at sea no more,
And thou, with all the noble company,
 Art got at last to shore—
But whilst thy fellow-voyagers I see,
All march’d up to possess the promis’d land;
Thou still alone (alas!) dost gaping stand
Upon the naked beach, upon the barren sand.

But neglect was not all Cowley had to endure; the royal party seemed disposed to calumniate him. When Cowley was young he had hastily composed the comedy of “The Guardian;” a piece which served the cause of loyalty. After the Restoration, he rewrote it under the title of “Cutter of Coleman Street;” a comedy which may still be read with equal curiosity and interest: a spirited picture of the peculiar characters which appeared at the Revolution. It was not only ill received by a faction, but by those vermin of a new court, who, without merit themselves, put in their claims, by crying down those who, with great merit, are not in favour. All these to a man accused the author of having written a satire against the king’s party. And this wretched party prevailed, too long for the author’s repose, but not for his fame.[29] Many years afterwards this comedy became popular. Dryden, who was present at the representation, tells us that Cowley “received the news of his ill success not with so much firmness as might have been expected from so great a man.” Cowley was in truth a great man, and a greatly injured man. 40 His sensibility and delicacy of temper were of another texture than Dryden’s. What at that moment did Cowley experience, when he beheld himself neglected, calumniated, and, in his last appeal to public favour, found himself still a victim to a vile faction, who, to court their common master, were trampling on their honest brother?

We shall find an unbroken chain of evidence, clearly demonstrating the agony of his literary feelings. The cynical Wood tells us that, “not finding that preferment he expected, while others for their money carried away most places, he retired discontented into Surrey.” And his panegyrist, Sprat, describes him as “weary of the vexations and formalities of an active condition—he had been perplexed with a long compliance with foreign manners. He was satiated with the arts of a court, which sort of life, though his virtue made it innocent to him, yet nothing could make it quiet. These were the reasons that moved him to follow the violent inclination of his own mind,” &c. I doubt if either the sarcastic antiquary or the rhetorical panegyrist have developed the simple truth of Cowley’s “violent inclination of his own mind.” He does it himself more openly in that beautiful picture of an injured poet, in “The Complaint,” an ode warm with individual feeling, but which Johnson coldly passes over, by telling us that “it met the usual fortune of complaints, and seems to have excited more contempt than pity.”

Thus the biographers of Cowley have told us nothing, and the poet himself has probably not told us all. To these calumnies respecting Cowley’s comedy, raised up by those whom Wood designates as “enemies of the muses,” it would appear that others were added of a deeper dye, and in malignant whispers distilled into the ear of royalty. Cowley, in an ode, had commemorated the genius of Brutus, with all the enthusiasm of a votary of liberty. After the king’s return, when Cowley solicited some reward for his sufferings and services in the royal cause, the chancellor is said to have turned on him with a severe countenance, saying, “Mr. Cowley, your pardon is your reward!” It seems that ode was then considered to be of a dangerous tendency among half the nation; Brutus would be the model of enthusiasts, who were sullenly bending their neck under the yoke of royalty. Charles II. feared the attempt of desperate men; and he might have forgiven Rochester a loose pasquinade, but not Cowley a solemn invocation. This fact, then, is said to have been the true cause 41 of the despondency so prevalent in the latter poetry of “the melancholy Cowley.” And hence the indiscretion of the muse, in a single flight, condemned her to a painful, rather than a voluntary solitude; and made the poet complain of “barren praise” and “neglected verse.”[30]

While this anecdote harmonises with better known facts, it throws some light on the outcry raised against the comedy, which seems to have been but an echo of some preceding one. Cowley retreated into solitude, where he found none of the agrestic charms of the landscapes of his muse. When in the world, Sprat says, “he had never wanted for constant health and strength of body;” but, thrown into solitude, he carried with him a wounded spirit—the Ode of Brutus and the condemnation of his comedy were the dark spirits that haunted his cottage. Ill health soon succeeded low spirits—he pined in dejection, and perished a victim of the finest and most injured feelings.

But before we leave the melancholy Cowley, he shall speak the feelings, which here are not exaggerated. In this Chronicle of Literary Calamity no passage ought to be more memorable than the solemn confession of one of the most amiable of men and poets.

Thus he expresses himself in the preface to his “Cutter of Coleman Street.”

“We are therefore wonderful wise men, and have a fine business of it; we, who spend our time in poetry. I do sometimes laugh, and am often angry with myself, when I think on it; and if I had a son inclined by nature to the same folly, I believe I should bind him from it by the strictest conjurations of a paternal blessing. For what can be more ridiculous than to labour to give men delight, whilst they labour, on their part, most earnestly to take offence?”

And thus he closes the preface, in all the solemn expression of injured feelings:—“This I do affirm, that from all which I have written, I never received the least benefit or the least advantage; but, on the contrary, have felt sometimes the effects of malice and misfortune!”

Cowley’s ashes were deposited between those of Chaucer and Spenser; a marble monument was erected by a duke; and his eulogy was pronounced, on the day of his death, from 42 the lips of royalty. The learned wrote, and the tuneful wept: well might the neglected bard, in his retirement, compose an epitaph on himself, living there “entombed, though not dead.”

To this ambiguous state of existence he applies a conceit, not inelegant, from the tenderness of its imagery:

Hic sparge flores, sparge breves rosas,
 Nam vita gaudet mortua floribus;
Herbisque odoratis corona
 Vatis adhuc cinerem calentem.


Here scatter flowers and short-lived roses bring.
For life, though dead, enjoys the flowers of spring;
With breathing wreaths of fragrant herbs adorn
The yet warm embers in the poet’s urn.


I must place the author of “The Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors,” who himself now ornaments that roll, among those who have participated in the misfortunes of literature.

Horace Walpole was the inheritor of a name the most popular in Europe;[31] he moved in the higher circles of society; and fortune had never denied him the ample gratification of his lively tastes in the elegant arts, and in curious knowledge. These were particular advantages. But Horace Walpole panted with a secret desire for literary celebrity; a full sense of his distinguished rank long suppressed the desire of venturing the name he bore to the uncertain fame of an author, and the caprice of vulgar critics. At length he pretended to shun authors, and to slight the honours of authorship. The cause of this contempt has been attributed to the perpetual consideration of his rank. But was this bitter contempt of so early a date? Was Horace Walpole a Socrates before his time? was he born that prodigy of indifference, to despise the secret object he languished to possess? His early associates were not only noblemen, but literary noblemen; and need he have been so petulantly fastidious at bearing the venerable title of author, when he saw Lyttleton, Chesterfield, 43 and other peers, proud of wearing the blue riband of literature? No! it was after he had become an author that he contemned authorship: and it was not the precocity of his sagacity, but the maturity of his experience, that made him willing enough to undervalue literary honours, which were not sufficient to satisfy his desires.

Let us estimate the genius of Horace Walpole by analysing his talents, and inquiring into the nature of his works.

His taste was highly polished; his vivacity attained to brilliancy;[32] and his picturesque fancy, easily excited, was soon extinguished; his playful wit and keen irony were perpetually exercised in his observations on life, and his memory was stored with the most amusing knowledge, but much too lively to be accurate; for his studies were but his sports. But other qualities of genius must distinguish the great author, and even him who would occupy that leading rank in the literary republic our author aspired to fill. He lived too much in that class of society which is little favourable to genius; he exerted neither profound thinking, nor profound feeling; and too volatile to attain to the pathetic, that higher quality of genius, he was so imbued with the petty elegancies of society that every impression of grandeur in the human character was deadened in the breast of the polished cynic.

Horace Walpole was not a man of genius,—his most pleasing, if not his great talent, lay in letter-writing; here he was 44 without a rival;[33] but he probably divined, when he condescended to become an author, that something more was required than the talents he exactly possessed. In his latter days he felt this more sensibly, which will appear in those confessions which I have extracted from an unpublished correspondence.

Conscious of possessing the talent which amuses, yet feeling his deficient energies, he resolved to provide various substitutes for genius itself; and to acquire reputation, if he could not grasp at celebrity. He raised a printing-press at his Gothic castle, by which means he rendered small editions of his works valuable from their rarity, and much talked of, because seldom seen. That this is true, appears from the following extract from his unpublished correspondence with a literary friend. It alludes to his “Anecdotes of Painting in England,” of which the first edition only consisted of 300 copies.

“Of my new fourth volume I printed 600; but, as they can be had, I believe not a third part is sold. This is a very plain lesson to me, that my editions sell for their curiosity, and not for any merit in them—and so they would if I printed Mother Goose’s Tales, and but a few. If I am humbled as an author, I may be vain as a printer; and when one has nothing else to be vain of, it is certainly very little worth while to be proud of that.”

There is a distinction between the author of great connexions and the mere author. In the one case, the man may give a temporary existence to his books; but in the other, it is the book which gives existence to the man.

Walpole’s writings seem to be constructed on a certain principle, by which he gave them a sudden, rather than a lasting existence. In historical research our adventurer startled the world by maintaining paradoxes which attacked the 45 opinions, or changed the characters, established for centuries. Singularity of opinion, vivacity of ridicule, and polished epigrams in prose, were the means by which Horace Walpole sought distinction.

In his works of imagination, he felt he could not trust to himself—the natural pathetic was utterly denied him. But he had fancy and ingenuity; he had recourse to the marvellous in imagination on the principle he had adopted the paradoxical in history. Thus, “The Castle of Otranto,” and “The Mysterious Mother,” are the productions of ingenuity rather than genius; and display the miracles of art, rather than the spontaneous creations of nature.

All his literary works, like the ornamented edifice he inhabited, were constructed on the same artificial principle; an old paper lodging-house, converted by the magician of taste into a Gothic castle, full of scenic effects.[34]

“A Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors” was itself a classification which only an idle amateur could have projected, and only the most agreeable narrator of anecdotes could have seasoned. These splendid scribblers are for the greater part no authors at all.[35]

His attack on our peerless Sidney, whose fame was more 46 mature than his life, was formed on the same principle as his “Historic Doubts” on Richard III. Horace Walpole was as willing to vilify the truly great, as to beautify deformity; when he imagined that the fame he was destroying or conferring, reflected back on himself. All these works were plants of sickly delicacy, which could never endure the open air, and only lived in the artificial atmosphere of a private collection. Yet at times the flowers, and the planter of the flowers, were roughly shaken by an uncivil breeze.

His “Anecdotes of Painting in England” is a most entertaining catalogue. He gives the feelings of the distinct eras with regard to the arts; yet his pride was never gratified when he reflected that he had been writing the work of Vertue, who had collected the materials, but could not have given the philosophy. His great age and his good sense opened his eyes on himself; and Horace Walpole seems to have judged too contemptuously of Horace Walpole. The truth is, he was mortified he had not and never could obtain a literary peerage; and he never respected the commoner’s seat. At these moments, too frequent in his life, he contemns authors, and returns to sink back into all the self-complacency of aristocratic indifference.

This cold unfeeling disposition for literary men, this disguised malice of envy, and this eternal vexation at his own disappointments,—break forth in his correspondence with one of those literary characters with whom he kept on terms while they were kneeling to him in the humility of worship, or moved about to fetch or to carry his little quests of curiosity in town or country.[36]

The following literary confessions illustrate this character:—


June, 1778.

“I have taken a thorough dislike to being an author; and, if it would not look like begging you to compliment one by contradicting me, I would tell you what I am most seriously convinced of, that I find what small share of parts I had grown dulled. And when I perceive it myself, I may well believe that others would not be less sharp-sighted. It is very natural; mine were spirits rather than parts; and as time has rebated the one, it must surely destroy their resemblance to the other.”

In another letter:—

“I set very little value on myself; as a man, I am a very faulty one; and as an author, a very middling one, which whoever thinks a comfortable rank, is not at all of my opinion. Pray convince me that you think I mean sincerely, by not answering me with a compliment. It is very weak to be pleased with flattery; the stupidest of all delusions to beg it. From you I should take it ill. We have known one another almost forty years.”

There were times when Horace Walpole’s natural taste for his studies returned with all the vigour of passion—but his volatility and his desultory life perpetually scattered his firmest resolutions into air. This conflict appears beautifully described when the view of King’s College, Cambridge, throws his mind into meditation; and the passion for study and seclusion instantly kindled his emotions, lasting, perhaps, as long as the letter which describes them occupied in writing.

May 22, 1777.

“The beauty of King’s College, Cambridge, now it is restored, penetrated me with a visionary longing to be a monk in it. Though my life has been passed in turbulent scenes, in pleasures or other pastimes, and in much fashionable dissipation, still, books, antiquity, and virtue kept hold of a corner of my heart: and since necessity has forced me of late years to be a man of business, my disposition tends to be a recluse for what remains—but it will not be my lot; and though there is some excuse for the young doing what they like, I doubt an old man should do nothing but what he ought, and I hope doing one’s duty is the best preparation for death. Sitting with one’s arms folded to think about it, is a very long way for preparing for it. If Charles V. had resolved to make some amends for his abominable ambition by doing 48 good (his duty as a king), there would have been infinitely more merit than going to doze in a convent. One may avoid actual guilt in a sequestered life, but the virtue of it is merely negative; the innocence is beautiful.”

There had been moments when Horace Walpole even expressed the tenderest feelings for fame; and the following passage, written prior to the preceding ones, gives no indication of that contempt for literary fame, of which the close of this character will exhibit an extraordinary instance.

This letter relates an affecting event—he had just returned from seeing General Conway attacked by a paralytic stroke. Shocked by his appearance, he writes—

“It is, perhaps, to vent my concern that I write. It has operated such a revolution on my mind, as no time, at my age, can efface. It has at once damped every pursuit which my spirits had even now prevented me from being weaned from, I mean of virtu. It is like a mortal distemper in myself; for can amusements amuse, if there is but a glimpse, a vision of outliving one’s friends? I have had dreams in which I thought I wished for fame—it was not certainly posthumous fame at any distance; I feel, I feel it was confined to the memory of those I love. It seems to me impossible for a man who has no friends to do anything for fame—and to me the first position in friendship is, to intend one’s friends should survive one—but it is not reasonable to oppress you, who are suffering gout, with my melancholy ideas. What I have said will tell you, what I hope so many years have told you, that I am very constant and sincere to friends of above forty years.”

In a letter of a later date there is a remarkable confession, which harmonises with those already given.

“My pursuits have always been light, trifling, and tended to nothing but my casual amusement. I will not say, without a little vain ambition of showing some parts, but never with industry sufficient to make me apply to anything solid. My studies, if they could be called so, and my productions, were alike desultory. In my latter age I discovered the futility both of my objects and writings—I felt how insignificant is the reputation of an author of mediocrity; and that, being no genius, I only added one name more to a list of writers; but had told the world nothing but what it 49 could as well be without. These reflections were the best proofs of my sense; and when I could see through my own vanity, there is less wonder in my discovering that such talents as I might have had are impaired at seventy-two.”

Thus humbled was Horace Walpole to himself!—there is an intellectual dignity, which this man of wit and sense was incapable of reaching—and it seems a retribution that the scorner of true greatness should at length feel the poisoned chalice return to his own lips. He who had contemned the eminent men of former times, and quarrelled with and ridiculed every contemporary genius; who had affected to laugh at the literary fame he could not obtain,—at length came to scorn himself! and endured “the penal fires” of an author’s hell, in undervaluing his own works, the productions of a long life!

The chagrin and disappointment of such an author were never less carelessly concealed than in the following extraordinary letter:—


Arlington Street, April 27, 1773.

“Mr. Gough wants to be introduced to me! Indeed! I would see him, as he has been midwife to Masters; but he is so dull that he would only be troublesome—and besides, you know I shun authors, and would never have been one myself, if it obliged me to keep such bad company. They are always in earnest, and think their profession serious, and dwell upon trifles, and reverence learning. I laugh at all these things, and write only to laugh at them and divert myself. None of us are authors of any consequence, and it is the most ridiculous of all vanities to be vain of being mediocre. A page in a great author humbles me to the dust, and the conversation of those that are not superior to myself reminds me of what will be thought of myself. I blush to flatter them, or to be flattered by them; and should dread letters being published some time or other, in which they would relate our interviews, and we should appear like those puny conceited witlings in Shenstone’s and Hughes’s correspondence, who give themselves airs from being in possession of the soil of Parnassus for the time being; as peers are proud because they enjoy the estates of great men who went before them. Mr. Gough is very welcome to see Strawberry-hill, 50 or I would help him to any scraps in my possession that would assist his publications, though he is one of those industrious who are only re-burying the dead—but I cannot be acquainted with him; it is contrary to my system and my humour; and besides I know nothing of barrows and Danish entrenchments, and Saxon barbarisms and Phœnician characters—in short, I know nothing of those ages that knew nothing—then how should I be of use to modern literati? All the Scotch metaphysicians have sent me their works. I did not read one of them, because I do not understand what is not understood by those that write about it; and I did not get acquainted with one of the writers. I should like to be intimate with Mr. Anstey, even though he wrote Lord Buckhorse, or with the author of the Heroic Epistle—I have no thirst to know the rest of my contemporaries, from the absurd bombast of Dr. Johnson down to the silly Dr. Goldsmith, though the latter changeling has had bright gleams of parts, and the former had sense, till he changed it for words, and sold it for a pension. Don’t think me scornful. Recollect that I have seen Pope, and lived with Gray.—Adieu!”

Such a letter seems not to have been written by a literary man—it is the babble of a thoughtless wit and a man of the world. But it is worthy of him whose contracted heart could never open to patronage or friendship. From such we might expect the unfeeling observation in the “Anecdotes of Painting,” that “want of patronage is the apology for want of genius. Milton and La Fontaine did not write in the bask of court favour. A poet or a painter may want an equipage or a villa, by wanting protection; they can always afford to buy ink and paper, colours and pencil. Mr. Hogarth has received no honours, but universal admiration.” Patronage, indeed, cannot convert dull men into men of genius, but it may preserve men of genius from becoming dull men. It might have afforded Dryden that studious leisure which he ever wanted, and which would have given us not imperfect tragedies, and uncorrected poems, but the regulated flights of a noble genius. It might have animated Gainsborough to have created an English school in landscape, which I have heard from those who knew him was his favourite yet neglected pursuit. But Walpole could insult that genius, which he wanted the generosity to protect!

The whole spirit of this man was penury. Enjoying an 51 affluent income he only appeared to patronise the arts which amused his tastes,—employing the meanest artists, at reduced prices, to ornament his own works, an economy which he bitterly reprehends in others who were compelled to practise it. He gratified his avarice at the expense of his vanity; the strongest passion must prevail. It was the simplicity of childhood in Chatterton to imagine Horace Walpole could be a patron—but it is melancholy to record that a slight protection might have saved such a youth. Gray abandoned this man of birth and rank in the midst of their journey through Europe; Mason broke with him; even his humble correspondent Cole, this “friend of forty years,” was often sent away in dudgeon; and he quarrelled with all the authors and artists he had ever been acquainted with. The Gothic castle at Strawberry-hill was rarely graced with living genius—there the greatest was Horace Walpole himself; but he had been too long waiting to see realised a magical vision of his hopes, which resembled the prophetic fiction of his own romance, that “the owner should grow too large for his house.” After many years, having discovered that he still retained his mediocrity, he could never pardon the presence of that preternatural being whom the world considered a GREAT MAN.—Such was the feeling which dictated the close of the above letter; Johnson and Goldsmith were to be “scorned,” since Pope and Gray were no more within the reach of his envy and his fear.


Unfriendly to the literary character, some have imputed the brutality of certain authors to their literary habits, when it may be more truly said that they derived their literature from their brutality. The spirit was envenomed before it entered into the fierceness of literary controversy, and the insanity was in the evil temper of the man before he roused our notice by his ravings. Ritson, the late antiquary of poetry (not to call him poetical), amazed the world by his vituperative railing at two authors of the finest taste in poetry, Warton and Percy; he carried criticism, as the discerning few had first surmised, to insanity itself; the character before us only approached it.

Dennis attained to the ambiguous honour of being distinguished 52 as “The Critic,” and he may yet instruct us how the moral influences the literary character, and how a certain talent that can never mature itself into genius, like the pale fruit that hangs in the shade, ripens only into sourness.

As a critic in his own day, party for some time kept him alive; the art of criticism was a novelty at that period of our literature. He flattered some great men, and he abused three of the greatest; this was one mode of securing popularity; because, by this contrivance, he divided the town into two parties; and the irascibility and satire of Pope and Swift were not less serviceable to him than the partial panegyrics of Dryden and Congreve. Johnson revived him, for his minute attack on Addison; and Kippis, feebly voluminous, and with the cold affectation of candour, allows him to occupy a place in our literary history too large in the eye of Truth and Taste.

Let us say all the good we can of him, that we may not be interrupted in a more important inquiry. Dennis once urged fair pretensions to the office of critic. Some of his “Original Letters,” and particularly the “Remarks on Prince Arthur,” written in his vigour, attain even to classical criticism.[37] Aristotle and Bossu lay open before him, and he developes and sometimes illustrates their principles with close reasoning. Passion had not yet blinded the young critic with rage; and in that happy moment, Virgil occupied his attention even more than Blackmore.

The prominent feature in his literary character was good sense; but in literature, though not in life, good sense is a penurious virtue. Dennis could not be carried beyond the cold line of a precedent, and before he ventured to be pleased, he was compelled to look into Aristotle. His learning was the bigotry of literature. It was ever Aristotle explained by Dennis. But in the explanation of the obscure text of his master, he was led into such frivolous distinctions, and tasteless propositions, that his works deserve inspection, as examples of the manner of a true mechanical critic.

This blunted feeling of the mechanical critic was at first 53 concealed from the world in the pomp of critical erudition; but when he trusted to himself, and, destitute of taste and imagination, became a poet and a dramatist, the secret of the Royal Midas was revealed. As his evil temper prevailed, he forgot his learning, and lost the moderate sense which he seemed once to have possessed. Rage, malice, and dulness, were the heavy residuum; and now he much resembled that congenial soul whom the ever-witty South compared to the tailor’s goose, which is at once hot and heavy.

Dennis was sent to Cambridge by his father, a saddler, who imagined a genius had been born in the family. He travelled in France and Italy, and on his return held in contempt every pursuit but poetry and criticism. He haunted the literary coteries, and dropped into a galaxy of wits and noblemen. At a time when our literature, like our politics, was divided into two factions, Dennis enlisted himself under Dryden and Congreve;[38] and, as legitimate criticism was then an awful novelty in the nation, the young critic, recent from the Stagirite, soon became an important, and even a tremendous spirit. Pope is said to have regarded his judgment; and Mallet, when young, tremblingly submitted a poem, to live or die by his breath. One would have imagined that the elegant studies he was cultivating, the views of life which had opened on him, and the polished circle around, would have influenced the grossness which was the natural growth of the soil. But ungracious Nature kept fast hold of the mind of Dennis!

His personal manners were characterised by their abrupt violence. Once dining with Lord Halifax he became so impatient of contradiction, that he rushed out of the room, overthrowing the sideboard. Inquiring on the next day how he had behaved, Moyle observed, “You went away like the devil, taking one corner of the house with you.” The wits, perhaps, then began to suspect their young Zoilus’s dogmatism.

The actors refused to perform one of his tragedies to empty houses, but they retained some excellent thunder which 54 Dennis had invented; it rolled one night when Dennis was in the pit, and it was applauded! Suddenly starting up, he cried to the audience, “By G—, they wont act my tragedy, but they steal my thunder!” Thus, when reading Pope’s “Essay on Criticism,” he came to the character of Appius, he suddenly flung down the new poem, exclaiming, “By G—, he means me!” He is painted to the life.

Lo! Appius reddens at each word you speak,
And stares tremendous with a threatening eye,
Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry.

I complete this picture of Dennis with a very extraordinary caricature, which Steele, in one of his papers of “The Theatre,” has given of Dennis. I shall, however, disentangle the threads, and pick out what I consider not to be caricature, but resemblance.

“His motion is quick and sudden, turning on all sides, with a suspicion of every object, as if he had done or feared some extraordinary mischief. You see wickedness in his meaning, but folly of countenance, that betrays him to be unfit for the execution of it. He starts, stares, and looks round him. This constant shuffle of haste without speed, makes the man thought a little touched; but the vacant look of his two eyes gives you to understand that he could never run out of his wits, which seemed not so much to be lost, as to want employment; they are not so much astray, as they are a wool-gathering. He has the face and surliness of a mastiff, which has often saved him from being treated like a cur, till some more sagacious than ordinary found his nature, and used him accordingly. Unhappy being! terrible without, fearful within! Not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but a sheep in a wolf’s.”[39]

However anger may have a little coloured this portrait, its truth may be confirmed from a variety of sources. If Sallust, with his accustomed penetration in characterising the violent emotions of Catiline’s restless mind, did not forget its indication 55 in “his walk now quick and now slow,” it maybe allowed to think that the character of Dennis was alike to be detected in his habitual surliness.

Even in his old age—for our chain must not drop a link—his native brutality never forsook him. Thomson and Pope charitably supported the veteran Zoilus at a benefit play; and Savage, who had nothing but a verse to give, returned them very poetical thanks in the name of Dennis. He was then blind and old, but his critical ferocity had no old age; his surliness overcame every grateful sense, and he swore as usual, “They could be no one’s but that fool Savage’s”—an evidence of his sagacity and brutality![40] This was, perhaps, the last peevish snuff shaken from the dismal link of criticism; for, a few days after, was the redoubted Dennis numbered with the mighty dead.

He carried the same fierceness into his style, and commits the same ludicrous extravagances in literary composition as in his manners. Was Pope really sore at the Zoilian style? He has himself spared me the trouble of exhibiting Dennis’s gross personalities, by having collected them at the close of the Dunciad—specimens which show how low false wit and malignity can get to by hard pains. I will throw into the note a curious illustration of the anti-poetical notions of a mechanical critic, who has no wing to dip into the hues of the imagination.[41]


In life and in literature we meet with men who seem endowed with an obliquity of understanding, yet active and busy spirits; but, as activity is only valuable in proportion to the capacity that puts all in motion, so, when ill directed, the intellect, warped by nature, only becomes more crooked and fantastical. A kind of frantic enthusiasm breaks forth in their actions and their language, and often they seem ferocious when they are only foolish. We may thus account for the manners and style of Dennis, pushed almost to the verge of insanity, and acting on him very much like insanity itself—a circumstance which the quick vengeance of wit seized on, in the humorous “Narrative of Dr. Robert Norris, concerning the Frenzy of Mr. John Dennis, an officer of the Custom-house.”[42]


It is curious to observe that Dennis, in the definition of genius, describes himself; he says—“Genius is caused by a furious joy and pride of soul on the conception of an extraordinary hint. Many men have their hints without their motions of fury and pride of soul, because they want fire enough to agitate their spirits; and these we call cold writers. Others, who have a great deal of fire, but have not excellent organs, feel the fore-mentioned motions, without the extraordinary hints; and these we call fustian writers.” His motions and his hints, as he describes them, in regard to cold or fustian writers, seem to include the extreme points of his own genius.

Another feature strongly marks the race of the Dennises. With a half-consciousness of deficient genius, they usually idolize some chimera, by adopting some extravagant principle; and they consider themselves as original when they are only absurd.

Dennis had ever some misshapen idol of the mind, which he was perpetually caressing with the zeal of perverted judgment or monstrous taste. Once his frenzy ran against the Italian Opera; and in his “Essay on Public Spirit,” he ascribes its decline to its unmanly warblings. I have seen a long letter by Dennis to the Earl of Oxford, written to congratulate his lordship on his accession to power, and the high hopes of the nation; but the greater part of the letter runs on the Italian Opera, while Dennis instructs the Minister that the national prosperity can never be effected while this general corruption of the three kingdoms lies open!

Dennis has more than once recorded two material circumstances in the life of a true critic; these are his ill-nature and the public neglect.

“I make no doubt,” says he, “that upon the perusal of the critical part of these letters, the old accusation will be brought against me, and there will be a fresh outcry among thoughtless people that I am an ill-natured man.”

He entertained exalted opinions of his own powers, and he deeply felt their public neglect.

“While others,” he says in his tracts, “have been too much 58 encouraged, I have been too much neglected”—his favourite system, that religion gives principally to great poetry its spirit and enthusiasm, was an important point, which, he says, “has been left to be treated by a person who has the honour of being your lordship’s countryman—your lordship knows that persons so much and so long oppressed as I have been have been always allowed to say things concerning themselves which in others might be offensive.”

His vanity, we see, was equal to his vexation, and as he grew old he became more enraged; and, writing too often without Aristotle or Locke by his side, he gave the town pure Dennis, and almost ceased to be read. “The oppression” of which he complains might not be less imaginary than his alarm, while a treaty was pending with France, that he should be delivered up to the Grand Monarque for having written a tragedy, which no one could read, against his majesty.

It is melancholy, but it is useful, to record the mortifications of such authors. Dennis had, no doubt, laboured with zeal which could never meet a reward; and, perhaps, amid his critical labours, he turned often with an aching heart from their barren contemplation to that of the tranquillity he might have derived from an humbler avocation.

It was not literature, then, that made the mind coarse, brutalising the habits and inflaming the style of Dennis. He had thrown himself among the walks of genius, and aspired to fix himself on a throne to which Nature had refused him a legitimate claim. What a lasting source of vexation and rage, even for a long-lived patriarch of criticism!

Accustomed to suspend the scourge over the heads of the first authors of the age, he could not sit at a table or enter a coffee-house without exerting the despotism of a literary dictator. How could the mind that had devoted itself to the contemplation of masterpieces, only to reward its industry by detailing to the public their human frailties, experience one hour of amenity, one idea of grace, one generous impulse of sensibility?

But the poor critic himself at length fell, really more the victim of his criticisms than the genius he had insulted. Having incurred the public neglect, the blind and helpless Cacus in his den sunk fast into contempt, dragged on a life of misery, and in his last days, scarcely vomiting his fire and smoke, became the most pitiable creature, receiving the alms he craved from triumphant genius.




How the moral and literary character are reciprocally influenced, may be traced in the character of a personage peculiarly apposite to these inquiries. This worthy of literature is Orator Henley, who is rather known traditionally than historically.[43] He is so overwhelmed with the echoed satire of Pope, and his own extravagant conduct for many years, that I should not care to extricate him, had I not discovered a feature in the character of Henley not yet drawn, and constituting no inferior calamity among authors.

Henley stands in his “gilt tub” in the Dunciad; and a portrait of him hangs in the picture-gallery of the Commentary. Pope’s verse and Warburton’s notes are the pickle and the bandages for any Egyptian mummy of dulness, who will last as long as the pyramid that encloses him. I shall transcribe, for the reader’s convenience, the lines of Pope:—

Embrown’d with native bronze, lo! Henley stands,
Tuning his voice, and balancing his hands;
How fluent nonsense trickles from his tongue!
How sweet the periods, neither said nor sung!
Still break the benches, Henley, with thy strain,
While Sherlock, Hare, and Gibson, preach in vain.
Oh! great restorer of the good old stage,
Preacher at once, and Zany of thy age![44]

It will surprise when I declare that this buffoon was an indefatigable student, a proficient in all the learned languages, an elegant poet, and, withal, a wit of no inferior class. It remains to discover why “the Preacher” became “the Zany.”

Henley was of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and was distinguished for the ardour and pertinacity of his studies; he gave evident marks of genius. There is a letter of his to the 60 “Spectator,” signed Peter de Quir, which abounds with local wit and quaint humour.[45] He had not attained his twenty-second year when he published a poem, entitled “Esther, Queen of Persia,”[46] written amid graver studies; for three years after, Henley, being M.A., published his “Complete Linguist,” consisting of grammars of ten languages.

The poem itself must not be passed by in silent notice. It is preceded by a learned preface, in which the poet discovers his intimate knowledge of oriental studies, with some etymologies from the Persic, the Hebrew, and the Greek, concerning the name and person of Ahasuerus, whom he makes to be Xerxes. The close of this preface gives another unexpected feature in the character of him who, the poet tells us, was “embrowned with native bronze”—an unaffected modesty! Henley, alluding to a Greek paraphrase of Barnes, censures his faults with acrimony, and even apologises for them, by thus gracefully closing the preface: “These can only be alleviated by one plea, the youth of the author, which is a circumstance I hope the candid will consider in favour of the present writer!”

The poem is not destitute of imagination and harmony.

The pomp of the feast of Ahasuerus has all the luxuriance of Asiatic splendour; and the circumstances are selected with some fancy.

The higher guests approach a room of state,
Where tissued couches all around were set
Labour’d with art; o’er ivory tables thrown,
Embroider’d carpets fell in folds adown.
The bowers and gardens of the court were near,
And open lights indulged the breathing air.

 Pillars of marble bore a silken sky,
While cords of purple and fine linen tie
In silver rings, the azure canopy.
Distinct with diamond stars the blue was seen,
And earth and seas were feign’d in emerald green;
A globe of gold, ray’d with a pointed crown,
Form’d in the midst almost a real sun.

Nor is Henley less skilful in the elegance of his sentiments, 61 and in his development of the human character. When Esther is raised to the throne, the poet says—

And Esther, though in robes, is Esther still.

And then sublimely exclaims—

The heroic soul, amidst its bliss or woe,
Is never swell’d too high, nor sunk too low;
Stands, like its origin above the skies,
Ever the same great self, sedately wise;
Collected and prepared in every stage
To scorn a courting world, or bear its rage.

But wit which the “Spectator” has sent down to posterity, and poetry which gave the promise of excellence, did not bound the noble ambition of Henley; ardent in more important labours, he was perfecting himself in the learned languages, and carrying on a correspondence with eminent scholars.

He officiated as the master of the free-school at his native town in Leicestershire, then in a declining state; but he introduced many original improvements. He established a class for public elocution, recitations of the classics, orations, &c.; and arranged a method of enabling every scholar to give an account of his studies without the necessity of consulting others, or of being examined by particular questions. These miracles are indeed a little apocryphal; for they are drawn from that pseudo-gospel of his life, of which I am inclined to think he himself was the evangelist. His grammar of ten languages was now finished; and his genius felt that obscure spot too circumscribed for his ambition. He parted from the inhabitants with their regrets, and came to the metropolis with thirty recommendatory letters.

Henley probably had formed those warm conceptions of patronage in which youthful genius cradles its hopes. Till 1724 he appears, however, to have obtained only a small living, and to have existed by translating and writing. Thus, after persevering studies, many successful literary efforts, and much heavy taskwork, Henley found he was but a hireling author for the booksellers, and a salaried “Hyp-doctor” for the minister; for he received a stipend for this periodical paper, which was to cheer the spirits of the people by ridiculing the gloomy forebodings of Amhurst’s “Craftsman.” About this time the complete metamorphosis of the studious and ingenious John Henley began to branch out into its grotesque figure; and a curiosity in human nature was now 62 about to be opened to public inspection. “The Preacher” was to personate “The Zany.” His temper had become brutal, and he had gradually contracted a ferocity and grossness in his manners, which seem by no means to have been indicated in his purer days. His youth was disgraced by no irregularities—it was studious and honourable. But he was now quick at vilifying the greatest characters; and having a perfect contempt for all mankind, was resolved to live by making one half of the world laugh at the other. Such is the direction which disappointed genius has too often given to its talents.

He first affected oratory, and something of a theatrical attitude in his sermons, which greatly attracted the populace; and he startled those preachers who had so long dozed over their own sermons, and who now finding themselves with but few slumberers about them, envied their Ciceronian brothers.

Tuning his voice, and balancing his hands.

It was alleged against Henley, that “he drew the people too much from their parish churches, and was not so proper for a London divine as a rural pastor.” He was offered a rustication, on a better living; but Henley did not come from the country to return to it.

There is a narrative of the life of Henley, which, subscribed by another person’s name, he himself inserted in his “Oratory Transactions.”[47] As he had to publish himself this highly seasoned biographical morsel, and as his face was then beginning to be “embrowned with bronze,” he thus very impudently and very ingeniously apologises for the panegyric:—

“If any remark of the writer appears favourable to myself, and be judged apocryphal, it may, however, weigh in the opposite scale to some things less obligingly said of me; false praise being as pardonable as false reproach.”[48]


In this narrative we are told, that when at college—

“He began to be uneasy that he had not the liberty of thinking, without incurring the scandal of heterodoxy; he was impatient that systems of all sorts were put into his hands ready carved out for him; it shocked him to find that he was commanded to believe against his judgment, and resolved some time or other to enter his protest against any person being bred like a slave, who is born an Englishman.”

This is all very decorous, and nothing can be objected to the first cry of this reforming patriot but a reasonable suspicion of its truth. If these sentiments were really in his mind at college, he deserves at least the praise of retention: for fifteen years were suffered to pass quietly without the patriotic volcano giving even a distant rumbling of the sulphurous matter concealed beneath. All that time had passed in the contemplation of church preferment, with the aerial perspective lighted by a visionary mitre. But Henley grew indignant at his disappointments, and suddenly resolved to reform “the gross impostures and faults that have long prevailed in the received institutions and establishments of knowledge and religion”—simply meaning that he wished to pull down the Church and the University!

But he was prudent before he was patriotic; he at first grafted himself on Whiston, adopting his opinions, and sent some queries by which it appears that Henley, previous to breaking with the church, was anxious to learn the power it had to punish him. The Arian Whiston was himself, from pure motives, suffering expulsion from Cambridge, for refusing his subscription to the Athanasian Creed; he was a pious man, and no buffoon, but a little crazed. Whiston afterwards discovered the character of his correspondent, he then requested the Bishop of London.

“To summon Mr. Henley, the orator, whose vile history I knew so well, to come and tell it to the church. But the bishop said he could do nothing; since which time Mr. Henley has gone on for about twenty years without control every week, as an ecclesiastical mountebank, to abuse religion.”

The most extraordinary project was now formed by Henley; he was to teach mankind universal knowledge from his lectures, and primitive Christianity from his sermons. He took apartments in Newport market, and opened his “Oratory.” He declared,

“He would teach more in one year than schools and universities 64 did in five, and write and study twelve hours a-day, and yet appear as untouched by the yoke, as if he never bore it.”

In his “Idea of what is intended to be taught in the Week-days’ Universal Academy,” we may admire the fertility, and sometimes the grandeur of his views. His lectures and orations[49] are of a very different nature from what they are imagined to be; literary topics are treated with perspicuity and with erudition, and there is something original in the manner. They were, no doubt, larded and stuffed with many high-seasoned jokes, which Henley did not send to the printer.

Henley was a charlatan and a knave; but in all his charlatanerie and his knavery he indulged the reveries of genius; 65 many of which have been realised since; and, if we continue to laugh at Henley, it will indeed be cruel, for we shall be laughing at ourselves! Among the objects which Henley discriminates in his general design, were, to supply the want of a university, or universal school, in this capital, for persons of all ranks, professions, and capacities;—to encourage a literary correspondence with great men and learned bodies; the communication of all discoveries and experiments in science and the arts; to form an amicable society for the encouragement of learning, “in order to cultivate, adorn, and exalt the genius of Britain;” to lay a foundation for an English Academy; to give a standard to our language, and a digest to our history; to revise the ancient schools of philosophy and elocution, which last has been reckoned by Pancirollus among the artes perditæ. All these were “to bring all the parts of knowledge into the narrowest compass, placing them in the clearest light, and fixing them to the utmost certainty.” The religion of the Oratory was to be that of the primitive church in the first ages of the four first general councils, approved by parliament in the first year of the reign of Elizabeth. “The Church of England is really with us; we appeal to her own principles, and we shall not deviate from her, unless she deviates from herself.” Yet his “Primitive Christianity” had all the sumptuous pomp of popery; his creeds and doxologies are printed in the red letter, and his liturgies in the black; his pulpit blazed in gold and velvet (Pope’s “gilt tub”); while his “Primitive Eucharist” was to be distributed with all the ancient forms of celebrating the sacrifice of the altar, which he says, “are so noble, so just, sublime, and perfectly harmonious, that the change has been made to an unspeakable disadvantage.” It was restoring the decorations and the mummery of the mass! He assumed even a higher tone, and dispersed medals, like those of Louis XIV., with the device of a sun near the meridian, and a motto, Ad summa, with an inscription expressive of the genius of this new adventurer, Inveniam viam aut faciam! There was a snake in the grass; it is obvious that Henley, in improving literature and philosophy, had a deeper design—to set up a new sect! He called himself “a Rationalist,” and on his death-bed repeatedly cried out, “Let my notorious enemies know I die a Rational.”[50]


His address to the town[51] excited public curiosity to the utmost; and the floating crowds were repulsed by their own violence from this new paradise, where “The Tree of Knowledge” was said to be planted. At the succeeding meeting “the Restorer of Ancient Eloquence” informed “persons in chairs that they must come sooner.” He first commenced by subscriptions to be raised from “persons eminent in Arts and Literature,” who, it seems, were lured by the seductive promise, that, “if they had been virtuous or penitents, they should be commemorated;” an oblique hint at a panegyrical puff. In the decline of his popularity he permitted his door-keeper, whom he dignifies with the title of Ostiary, to take a shilling! But he seems to have been popular for many years; even when his auditors were but few, they were of the better order;[52] and in notes respecting him which I have seen, by a contemporary, he is called “the reverend and learned.” His favourite character was that of a Restorer of Eloquence; and he was not destitute of the qualifications of a fine orator, a good voice, graceful gesture, and forcible elocution. Warburton justly remarked, “Sometimes he broke jests, and sometimes that bread which he called the Primitive Eucharist.” He would degenerate into buffoonery on solemn occasions. His address to the Deity was at first awful, and seemingly devout; but, once expatiating on the several sects who would certainly be damned, he prayed that the Dutch might be undamm’d! He undertook to show the ancient use of the petticoat, by quoting the Scriptures where the mother of Samuel is said to have made him “a little coat,” ergo, a PETTI-coat![53] His advertisements 67 were mysterious ribaldry to attract curiosity, while his own good sense would frequently chastise those who could not resist it; his auditors came in folly, but they departed in good-humour.[54] These advertisements were usually preceded by a sort of motto, generally a sarcastic allusion to some public transaction of the preceding week.[55] Henley pretended to great impartiality; and when two preachers had animadverted on him, he issued an advertisement, announcing “A Lecture that will be a challenge to the Rev. Mr. Batty and the Rev. Mr. Albert. Letters are sent to them on this head, and a free standing-place is there to be had gratis.” Once Henley offered to admit of a disputation, and that he would impartially determine the merits of the contest. It happened that Henley this time was overmatched; 68 for two Oxonians, supported by a strong party to awe his “marrow-boners,” as the butchers were called, said to be in the Orator’s pay, entered the list; the one to defend the ignorance, the other the impudence, of the Restorer of Eloquence himself. As there was a door behind the rostrum, which led to his house, the Orator silently dropped out, postponing the award to some happier day.[56]

This age of lecturers may find their model in Henley’s “Universal Academy,” and if any should aspire to bring themselves down to his genius, I furnish them with hints of anomalous topics. In the second number of “The Oratory Transactions,” is a diary from July 1726, to August 1728. It forms, perhaps, an unparalleled chronicle of the vagaries of the human mind. These archives of cunning, of folly, and of literature, are divided into two diaries; the one “The Theological or Lord’s days’ subjects of the Oratory;” the other, “The Academical or Week-days’ subjects.” I can only note a few. It is easy to pick out ludicrous specimens; for he had a quaint humour peculiar to himself; but among these numerous topics are many curious for their knowledge and ingenuity.

“The last Wills and Testaments of the Patriarchs.”

“An Argument to the Jews, with a proof that they ought to be Christians, for the same reason which they ought to be Jews.”

“St. Paul’s Cloak, Books, and Parchments, left at Troas.”

“The tears of Magdalen, and the joy of angels.”

“New Converts in Religion.” After pointing out the names of “Courayer and others, the D—— of W——n, the Protestantism 69 of the P——, the conversion of the Rev. Mr. B——e, and Mr. Har——y,” he closes with “Origen’s opinion of Satan’s conversion; with the choice and balance of Religion in all countries.”

There is one remarkable entry:—

“Feb. 11. This week all Mr. Henley’s writings were seized, to be examined by the State. Vide Magnam Chartam, and Eng Lib.

It is evident by what follows that the personalities he made use of were one means of attracting auditors.

“On the action of Cicero, and the beauty of Eloquence, and on living characters; of action in the Senate, at the Bar, and in the Pulpit—of the Theatrical in all men. The manner of my Lord ——, Sir ——, Dr. ——, the B. of ——, being a proof how all life is playing something, but with different action.”

In a Lecture on the History of Bookcraft, an account was given

“Of the plenty of books, and dearth of sense; the advantages of the Oratory to the booksellers, in advertising for them; and to their customers, in making books useless; with all the learning, reason, and wit more than are proper for one advertisement.”

Amid these eccentricities it is remarkable that “the Zany” never forsook his studies; and the amazing multiplicity of the MSS. he left behind him confirm this extraordinary fact. “These,” he says, “are six thousand more or less, that I value at one guinea apiece; with 150 volumes of commonplaces of wit, memoranda,” &c. They were sold for much less than one hundred pounds; I have looked over many; they are written with great care. Every leaf has an opposite blank page, probably left for additions or corrections, so that if his nonsense were spontaneous, his sense was the fruit of study and correction.

Such was “Orator Henley!” A scholar of great acquirements, and of no mean genius; hardy and inventive, eloquent and witty; he might have been an ornament to literature, which he made ridiculous; and the pride of the pulpit, which he so egregiously disgraced; but, having blunted and worn out that interior feeling, which is the instinct of the good man, and the wisdom of the wise, there was no balance in his passions, and the decorum of life was sacrificed to its 70 selfishness. He condescended to live on the follies of the people, and his sordid nature had changed him till he crept, “licking the dust with the serpent.”[57]


The practice of every art subjects the artist to some particular inconvenience, usually inflicting some malady on that member which has been over-wrought by excess: nature abused, pursues man into his most secret corners, and avenges herself. In the athletic exercises of the ancient Gymnasium, the pugilists were observed to become lean from their hips downwards, while the superior parts of their bodies, which they over-exercised, were prodigiously swollen; on the contrary, the racers were meagre upwards, while their feet acquired an unnatural dimension. The secret source of life seems to be carried forwards to those parts which are making the most continued efforts.

In all sedentary labours, some particular malady is contracted by every worker, derived from particular postures of the body and peculiar habits. Thus the weaver, the tailor, the painter, and the glass-blower, have all their respective maladies. The diamond-cutter, with a furnace before him, may be said almost to live in one; the slightest air must be shut out of the apartment, lest it scatter away the precious dust—a breath would ruin him!

The analogy is obvious;[58] and the author must participate in the common fate of all sedentary occupations. But his maladies, from the very nature of the delicate organ of thinking, intensely exercised, are more terrible than those of any other profession; they are more complicated, more hidden 71 in their causes, and the mysterious union and secret influence of the faculties of the soul over those of the body, are visible, yet still incomprehensible; they frequently produce a perturbation in the faculties, a state of acute irritability, and many sorrows and infirmities, which are not likely to create much sympathy from those around the author, who, at a glance, could have discovered where the pugilist or the racer became meagre or monstrous: the intellectual malady eludes even the tenderness of friendship.

The more obvious maladies engendered by the life of a student arise from over-study. These have furnished a curious volume to Tissot, in his treatise “On the Health of Men of Letters;” a book, however, which chills and terrifies more than it does good.

The unnatural fixed postures, the perpetual activity of the mind, and the inaction of the body; the brain exhausted with assiduous toil deranging the nerves, vitiating the digestive powers, disordering its own machinery, and breaking the calm of sleep by that previous state of excitement which study throws us into, are some of the calamities of a studious life: for like the ocean when its swell is subsiding, the waves of the mind too still heave and beat; hence all the small feverish symptoms, and the whole train of hypochondriac affections, as well as some acute ones.[59]


Among the correspondents of the poets Hughes and Thomson, there is a pathetic letter from a student. Alexander Bayne, to prepare his lectures, studied fourteen hours a-day for eight months successively, and wrote 1,600 sheets. Such intense application, which, however, not greatly exceeds that of many authors, brought on the bodily complaints he has minutely described, with “all the dispiriting symptoms of a nervous illness, commonly called vapours, or lowness of spirits.” Bayne, who was of an athletic temperament, imagined he had not paid attention to his diet, to the lowness of his desk, and his habit of sitting with a particular compression of the body; in future all these were to be avoided. He prolonged his life for five years, and, perhaps, was still flattering his hopes of sharing one day in the literary celebrity of his friends, when, to use his words, “the same illness made a fierce attack upon me again, and has kept me in a very bad state of inactivity and disrelish of all my ordinary amusements:” those amusements were his serious studies. There is a fascination in literary labour: the student feeds on magical drugs; to withdraw him from them requires nothing less than that greater magic which could break his own spells. A few months after this letter was written Bayne died on the way to Bath, a martyr to his studies.

The excessive labour on a voluminous work, which occupies a long life, leaves the student with a broken constitution, and his sight decayed or lost. The most admirable observer of mankind, and the truest painter of the human heart, declares, “The corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthy tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth on many things.” Of this class was old Randle Cotgrave, the curious collector of the most copious dictionary of old French and old English words and phrases. The work is the only treasury of our genuine idiom. Even this labour of the lexicographer, 73 so copious and so elaborate, must have been projected with rapture, and pursued with pleasure, till, in the progress, “the mind was musing on many things.” Then came the melancholy doubt, that drops mildew from its enveloping wings over the voluminous labour of a laborious author, whether he be wisely consuming his days, and not perpetually neglecting some higher duties or some happier amusements. Still the enchanted delver sighs, and strikes on in the glimmering mine of hope. If he live to complete the great labour, it is, perhaps, reserved for the applause of the next age; for, as our great lexicographer exclaimed, “In this gloom of solitude I have protracted my work, till those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds;” but, if it be applauded in his own, that praise has come too late for him whose literary labour has stolen away his sight. Cotgrave had grown blind over his dictionary, and was doubtful whether this work of his laborious days and nightly vigils was not a superfluous labour, and nothing, after all, but a “poor bundle of words.” The reader may listen to the gray-headed martyr addressing his patron, Lord Burghley:

“I present to your lordship an account of the expense of many hours, which, in your service, and to mine own benefit, might have been otherwise employed. My desires have aimed at more substantial marks; but mine eyes failed them, and forced me to spend out their vigour in this bundle of words, which may be unworthy of your lordship’s great patience, and, perhaps, ill-suited to the expectation of others.”

A great number of young authors have died of over-study. An intellectual enthusiasm, accompanied by constitutional delicacy, has swept away half the rising genius of the age. Curious calculators have affected to discover the average number of infants who die under the age of five years: had they investigated those of the children of genius who perish before their thirtieth year, we should not be less amazed at this waste of man. There are few scenes more afflicting, nor which more deeply engage our sympathy, than that of a youth, glowing with the devotion of study, and resolute to distinguish his name among his countrymen, while death is stealing on him, touching with premature age, before he strikes the last blow. The author perishes on the very pages which give a charm to his existence. The fine taste and tender melancholy of Headley, the fervid genius of Henry Kirke White, 74 will not easily pass away; but how many youths as noble-minded have not had the fortune of Kirke White to be commemorated by genius, and have perished without their fame! Henry Wharton is a name well known to the student of English literature; he published historical criticisms of high value; and he left, as some of the fruits of his studies, sixteen volumes of MS., preserved in the Archiepiscopal Library at Lambeth. These great labours were pursued with the ardour that only could have produced them; the author had not exceeded his thirtieth year when he sank under his continued studies, and perished a martyr to literature. Our literary history abounds with instances of the sad effects of an over indulgence in study: that agreeable writer, Howel, had nearly lost his life by an excess of this nature, studying through long nights in the depth of winter. This severe study occasioned an imposthume in his head; he was eighteen days without sleep; and the illness was attended with many other afflicting symptoms. The eager diligence of Blackmore, protracting his studies through the night, broke his health, and obliged him to fly to a country retreat. Harris, the historian, died of a consumption by midnight studies, as his friend Hollis mentions. I shall add a recent instance, which I myself witnessed: it is that of John Macdiarmid. He was one of those Scotch students whom the golden fame of Hume and Robertson attracted to the metropolis. He mounted the first steps of literary adventure with credit; and passed through the probation of editor and reviewer, till he strove for more heroic adventures. He published some volumes, whose subjects display the aspirings of his genius: “An Inquiry into the Nature of Civil and Military Subordination;” another into “the System of Military Defence.” It was during these labours I beheld this inquirer, of a tender frame, emaciated, and study-worn, with hollow eyes, where the mind dimly shone like a lamp in a tomb. With keen ardour he opened a new plan of biographical politics. When, by one who wished the author was in better condition, the dangers of excess in study were brought to his recollection, he smiled, and, with something of a mysterious air, talked of unalterable confidence in the powers of his mind; of the indefinite improvement in our faculties: and, with this enfeebled frame, considered himself capable of continuous labour. His whole life, indeed, was one melancholy trial. Often the day cheerfully passed without its meal, but never without its page. 75 The new system of political biography was advancing, when our young author felt a paralytic stroke. He afterwards resumed his pen; and a second one proved fatal. He lived just to pass through the press his “Lives of British Statesmen,” a splendid quarto, whose publication he owed to the generous temper of a friend, who, when the author could not readily procure a publisher, would not see the dying author’s last hope disappointed. Some research and reflection are combined in this literary and civil history of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; but it was written with the blood of the author, for Macdiarmid died of over-study and exhaustion.

Among the maladies of poor authors, who procure a precarious existence by their pen, one, not the least considerable, is their old age; their flower and maturity of life were shed for no human comforts; and old age is the withered root. The late Thomas Mortimer, the compiler, among other things, of that useful work, “The Student’s Pocket Dictionary,” felt this severely—he himself experienced no abatement of his ardour, nor deficiency in his intellectual powers, at near the age of eighty;—but he then would complain “of the paucity of literary employment, and the preference given to young adventurers.” Such is the youth, and such the old age of ordinary authors!


What literary emigrations from the North of young men of genius, seduced by a romantic passion for literary fame, and lured by the golden prospects which the happier genius of some of their own countrymen opened on them. A volume might be written on literary Scotchmen, who have perished immaturely in this metropolis; little known, and slightly connected, they have dropped away among us, and scarcely left a vestige in the wrecks of their genius. Among them some authors may be discovered who might have ranked, perhaps, in the first classes of our literature. I shall select four out of as many hundred, who were not entirely unknown to me; a romantic youth—a man of genius—a brilliant prose writer—and a labourer in literature.

Issac Ritson (not the poetical antiquary) was a young man of genius, who perished immaturely in this metropolis by attempting to exist by the efforts of his pen.


In early youth he roved among his native mountains, with the battles of Homer in his head, and his bow and arrow in his hand; in calmer hours, he nearly completed a spirited version of Hesiod, which constantly occupied his after-studies; yet our minstrel-archer did not less love the severer sciences.

Selected at length to rise to the eminent station of the Village Schoolmaster,—from the thankless office of pouring cold rudiments into heedless ears, Ritson took a poetical flight. It was among the mountains and wild scenery of Scotland that our young Homer, picking up fragments of heroic songs, and composing some fine ballad poetry, would, in his wanderings, recite them with such passionate expression, that he never failed of auditors; and found even the poor generous, when their better passions were moved. Thus he lived, like some old troubadour, by his rhymes, and his chants, and his virelays; and, after a year’s absence, our bard returned in the triumph of verse. This was the most seducing moment of life; Ritson felt himself a laureated Petrarch; but he had now quitted his untutored but feeling admirers, and the child of fancy was to mix with the everyday business of life.

At Edinburgh he studied medicine, lived by writing theses for the idle and the incompetent, and composed a poem on Medicine, till at length his hopes and his ambition conducted him to London. But the golden age of the imagination soon deserted him in his obscure apartment in the glittering metropolis. He attended the hospitals, but these were crowded by students who, if they relished the science less, loved the trade more: he published a hasty version of Homer’s Hymn to Venus, which was good enough to be praised, but not to sell; at length his fertile imagination, withering over the taskwork of literature, he resigned fame for bread; wrote the preface to Clarke’s Survey of the Lakes, compiled medical articles for the Monthly Review; and, wasting fast his ebbing spirits, he retreated to an obscure lodging at Islington, where death relieved a hopeless author, in the twenty-seventh year of his life.

The following unpolished lines were struck off at a heat in trying his pen on the back of a letter; he wrote the names of the Sister Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos—the sudden recollection of his own fate rushed on him—and thus the rhapsodist broke out:—

 I wonder much, as yet ye’re spinning, Fates!
What threads yet twisted out for me, old jades! 77
Ah, Atropos! perhaps for me thou spinn’st
Neglect, contempt, and penury and woe;
Be’t so; whilst that foul fiend, the spleen,
And moping melancholy spare me, all the rest
I’ll bear, as should a man; ’twill do me good,
And teach me what no better fortune could,
Humility, and sympathy with others’ ills.
———————Ye destinies,
I love you much; ye flatter not my pride.
Your mien, ’tis true, is wrinkled, hard, and sour;
Your words are harsh and stern; and sterner still
Your purposes to me. Yet I forgive
Whatever you have done, or mean to do.
Beneath some baleful planet born, I’ve found,
In all this world, no friend with fostering hand
To lead me on to science, which I love
Beyond all else the world could give; yet still
Your rigour I forgive; ye are not yet my foes;
My own untutor’d will’s my only curse.
We grasp asphaltic apples; blooming poison!
We love what we should hate; how kind, ye Fates,
To thwart our wishes! O you’re kind to scourge!
And flay us to the bone to make us feel!—

Thus deeply he enters into his own feelings, and abjures his errors, as he paints the utter desolation of the soul while falling into the grave opening at his feet.

The town was once amused almost every morning by a series of humorous or burlesque poems by a writer under the assumed name of Matthew Bramble—he was at that very moment one of the most moving spectacles of human melancholy I have ever witnessed.

It was one evening I saw a tall, famished, melancholy man enter a bookseller’s shop, his hat flapped over his eyes, and his whole frame evidently feeble from exhaustion and utter misery. The bookseller inquired how he proceeded in his new tragedy. “Do not talk to me about my tragedy! Do not talk to me about my tragedy! I have indeed more tragedy than I can bear at home!” was the reply, and the voice faltered as he spoke. This man was Matthew Bramble, or rather—M’Donald, the author of the tragedy of Vimonda, at that moment the writer of comic poetry—his tragedy was indeed a domestic one, in which he himself was the greatest actor amid his disconsolate family; he shortly afterwards perished. M’Donald had walked from Scotland with no other fortune than the novel of “The Independent” in one pocket, and the tragedy of “Vimonda” in the other. Yet he lived some time in all the bloom and flush of poetical confidence. Vimonda was even 78 performed several nights, but not with the success the romantic poet, among his native rocks, had conceived was to crown his anxious labours—the theatre disappointed him—and afterwards, to his feelings, all the world!

Logan had the dispositions of a poetic spirit, not cast in a common mould; with fancy he combined learning, and with eloquence philosophy.

His claims on our sympathy arise from those circumstances in his life which open the secret sources of the calamities of authors; of those minds of finer temper, who, having tamed the heat of their youth by the patient severity of study, from causes not always difficult to discover, find their favourite objects and their fondest hopes barren and neglected. It is then that the thoughtful melancholy, which constitutes so large a portion of their genius, absorbs and consumes the very faculties to which it gave birth.

Logan studied at the University of Edinburgh, was ordained in the Church of Scotland—and early distinguished as a poet by the simplicity and the tenderness of his verses, yet the philosophy of history had as deeply interested his studies. He gave two courses of lectures. I have heard from his pupils their admiration, after the lapse of many years; so striking were those lectures for having successfully applied the science of moral philosophy to the history of nations. All wished that Logan should obtain the chair of the Professorship of Universal History—but from some point of etiquette he failed in obtaining that distinguished office.

This was his first disappointment in life, yet then perhaps but lightly felt; for the public had approved of his poems, and a successful poet is easily consoled. Poetry to such a gentle being seems a universal specific for all the evils of life; it acts at the moment, exhausting and destroying too often the constitution it seems to restore.

He had finished the tragedy of “Runnymede;” it was accepted at Covent-garden, but interdicted by the Lord Chamberlain, from some suspicion that its lofty sentiments contained allusions to the politics of the day. The Barons-in-arms who met John were conceived to be deeper politicians than the poet himself was aware of. This was the second disappointment in the life of this man of genius.

The third calamity was the natural consequence of a tragic poet being also a Scotch clergyman. Logan had inflicted a wound on the Presbytery, heirs of the genius of old Prynne, 79 whose puritanic fanaticism had never forgiven Home for his “Douglas,” and now groaned to detect genius still lurking among them.[60] Logan, it is certain, expressed his contempt for them; they their hatred of him: folly and pride in a poet, to beard Presbyters in a land of Presbyterians![61]

He gladly abandoned them, retiring on a small annuity. They had, however, hurt his temper—they had irritated the nervous system of a man too susceptible of all impressions, gentle or unkind—his character had all those unequal habitudes which genius contracts in its boldness and its tremors; he was now vivacious and indignant, and now fretted and melancholy. He flew to the metropolis, occupied himself in literature, and was a frequent contributor to the “English Review.” He published “A Review of the Principal Charges against Mr. Hastings.” Logan wrestled with the genius of Burke and Sheridan; the House of Commons ordered the publisher Stockdale to be prosecuted, but the author did not live to rejoice in the victory obtained by his genius.

This elegant philosopher has impressed on all his works the seal of genius; and his posthumous compositions became even popular; he who had with difficulty escaped excommunication by Presbyters, left the world after his death two volumes of sermons, which breathe all that piety, morality, and eloquence admire. His unrevised lectures, published under the name of a person, one Rutherford, who had purchased the MS., were given to the world in “A View of Ancient History.” But one highly-finished composition he had himself published; it is a philosophical review of Despotism: had the name of Gibbon been affixed to the title-page, its authenticity had not been suspected.[62]


From one of his executors, Mr. Donald Grant, who wrote the life prefixed to his poems, I heard of the state of his numerous MSS.; the scattered, yet warm embers of the unhappy bard. Several tragedies, and one on Mary Queen of Scots, abounding with all that domestic tenderness and poetic sensibility which formed the soft and natural feature of his muse; these, with minor poems, thirty lectures on the Roman History, and portions of a periodical paper, were the wrecks of genius! He resided here, little known out of a very private circle, and perished in his fortieth year, not of penury, but of a broken heart. Such noble and well-founded expectations of fortune and fame, all the plans of literary ambition overturned: his genius, with all its delicacy, its spirit, and its elegance, became a prey to that melancholy which constituted so large a portion of it.

Logan, in his “Ode to a Man of Letters,” had formed this lofty conception of a great author:—

Won from neglected wastes of time,
Apollo hails his fairest clime,
 The provinces of mind;
An Egypt with eternal towers;[63]
See Montesquieu redeem the hours
 From Louis to mankind.

No tame remission genius knows,
No interval of dark repose,
 To quench the ethereal flame;
From Thebes to Troy, the victor hies,
And Homer with his hero vies,
 In varied paths to Fame.

Our children will long repeat his “Ode to the Cuckoo,” one of the most lovely poems in our language; magical stanzas of picture, melody, and sentiment.[64]

These authors were undoubtedly men of finer feelings, who all perished immaturely, victims in the higher department of literature! But this article would not be complete without furnishing the reader with a picture of the fate of one who, with a pertinacity of industry not common, having undergone 81 regular studies, not very injudiciously deemed that the life of a man of letters could provide for the simple wants of a philosopher.

This man was the late Robert Heron, who, in the following letter, transcribed from the original, stated his history to the Literary Fund. It was written in a moment of extreme bodily suffering and mental agony in the house to which he had been hurried for debt. At such a moment he found eloquence in a narrative, pathetic from its simplicity, and valuable for its genuineness, as giving the results of a life of literary industry, productive of great infelicity and disgrace; one would imagine that the author had been a criminal rather than a man of letters.

The Case of a Man of Letters, of regular education, living by honest literary industry.

“Ever since I was eleven years of age I have mingled with my studies the labour of teaching or of writing, to support and educate myself.

“During about twenty years, while I was in constant or occasional attendance at the University of Edinburgh, I taught and assisted young persons, at all periods, in the course of education; from the Alphabet to the highest branches of Science and Literature.

“I read a course of Lectures on the Law of Nature, the Law of Nations; the Jewish, the Grecian, the Roman, and the Canon Law; and then on the Feudal Law; and on the several forms of Municipal Jurisprudence established in Modern Europe. I printed a Syllabus of these Lectures, which was approved. They were intended as introductory to the professional study of Law, and to assist gentlemen who did not study it professionally, in the understanding of History.

“I translated ‘Fourcroy’s Chemistry’ twice, from both the second and the third editions of the original; ‘Fourcroy’s Philosophy of Chemistry;’ ‘Savary’s Travels in Greece;’ ‘Dumourier’s Letters;’ ‘Gessner’s Idylls’ in part; an abstract of ‘Zimmerman on Solitude,’ and a great diversity of smaller pieces.

“I wrote a ‘Journey through the Western Parts of Scotland,’ which has passed through two editions; a ‘History of Scotland,’ in six volumes 8vo; a ‘Topographical Account of Scotland,’ which has been several times reprinted; a number 82 of communications in the ‘Edinburgh Magazine;’ many Prefaces and Critiques; a ‘Memoir of the Life of Burns the Poet,’ which suggested and promoted the subscription for his family—has been many times reprinted, and formed the basis of Dr. Currie’s Life of him, as I learned by a letter from the doctor to one of his friends; a variety of Jeux d’Esprit in verse and prose; and many abridgments of large works.

“In the beginning of 1799 I was encouraged to come to London. Here I have written a great multiplicity of articles in almost every branch of science and literature; my education at Edinburgh having comprehended them all. The ‘London Review,’ the ‘Agricultural Magazine,’ the ‘Anti-Jacobin Review,’ the ‘Monthly Magazine,’ the ‘Universal Magazine,’ the ‘Public Characters,’ the ‘Annual Necrology,’ with several other periodical works, contain many of my communications. In such of those publications as have been reviewed, I can show that my anonymous pieces have been distinguished with very high praise. I have written also a short system of Chemistry, in one volume 8vo; and I published a few weeks since a small work called ‘Comforts of Life,’[65] of which the first edition was sold in one week, and the second edition is now in rapid sale.

“In the Newspapers—the Oracle, the Porcupine when it existed, the General Evening Post, the Morning Post, the British Press, the Courier, &c., I have published many Reports of Debates in Parliament, and, I believe, a greater variety of light fugitive pieces than I know to have been written by any one other person.

“I have written also a variety of compositions in the Latin and the French languages, in favour of which I have been honoured with the testimonies of liberal approbation.

“I have invariably written to serve the cause of religion, morality, pious christian education, and good order, in the most direct manner. I have considered what I have written as mere trifles; and have incessantly studied to qualify myself for something better. I can prove that I have, for many years, read and written, one day with another, from twelve to sixteen hours a day. As a human being, I have not been free 83 from follies and errors. But the tenor of my life has been temperate, laborious, humble, quiet, and, to the utmost of my power, beneficent. I can prove the general tenor of my writings to have been candid, and ever adapted to exhibit the most favourable views of the abilities, dispositions, and exertions of others.

“For these last ten months I have been brought to the very extremity of bodily and pecuniary distress.

“I shudder at the thought of perishing in a gaol.

92, Chancery-lane, Feb. 2, 1807.

“(In confinement).”

The physicians reported that Robert Heron’s health was such “as rendered him totally incapable of extricating himself from the difficulties in which he was involved, by the indiscreet exertion of his mind, in protracted and incessant literary labours.”

About three months after, Heron sunk under a fever, and perished amid the walls of Newgate. We are disgusted with this horrid state of pauperism; we are indignant at beholding an author, not a contemptible one, in this last stage of human wretchedness! after early and late studies—after having read and written from twelve to sixteen hours a day! O, ye populace of scribblers! before ye are driven to a garret, and your eyes are filled with constant tears, pause—recollect that few of you possess the learning or the abilities of Heron.

The fate of Heron is the fate of hundreds of authors by profession in the present day—of men of some literary talent, who can never extricate themselves from a degrading state of poverty.


This is one of the groans of old Burton over his laborious work, when he is anticipating the reception it is like to meet with, and personates his objectors. He says:—

“This is a thinge of meere industrie—a collection without wit or invention—a very toy! So men are valued!—their labours vilified by fellowes of no worth themselves, as things of nought; who could not have done as much.”

There is, indeed, a class of authors who are liable to forfeit all claims to genius, whatever their genius may be—these are the laborious writers of voluminous works; but they are 84 farther subject to heavier grievances—to be undervalued or neglected by the apathy or the ingratitude of the public.

Industry is often conceived to betray the absence of intellectual exertion, and the magnitude of a work is imagined necessarily to shut out all genius. Yet a laborious work has often had an original growth and raciness in it, requiring a genius whose peculiar feeling, like invisible vitality, is spread through the mighty body. Feeble imitations of such laborious works have proved the master’s mind that is in the original. There is a talent in industry which every industrious man does not possess; and even taste and imagination may lead to the deepest studies of antiquities, as well as mere undiscerning curiosity and plodding dulness.

But there are other more striking characteristics of intellectual feeling in authors of this class. The fortitude of mind which enables them to complete labours of which, in many instances, they are conscious that the real value will only be appreciated by dispassionate posterity, themselves rarely living to witness the fame of their own work established, while they endure the captiousness of malicious cavillers. It is said that the Optics of Newton had no character or credit here till noticed in France. It would not be the only instance of an author writing above his own age, and anticipating its more advanced genius. How many works of erudition might be adduced to show their author’s disappointments! Prideaux’s learned work of the “Connexion of the Old and New Testament,” and Shuckford’s similar one, were both a long while before they could obtain a publisher, and much longer before they found readers. It is said Sir Walter Raleigh burned the second volume of his History, from the ill success the first had met with. Prince’s “Worthies of Devon” was so unfavourably received by the public, that the laborious and patriotic author was so discouraged as not to print the second volume, which is said to have been prepared for the press. Farneworth’s elaborate Translation, with notes and dissertations, of Machiavel’s works, was hawked about the town; and the poor author discovered that he understood Machiavel better than the public. After other labours of this kind, he left his family in distressed circumstances. Observe, this excellent book now bears a high price! The fate of the “Biographia Britannica,” in its first edition, must be noticed: the spirit and acuteness of Campbell, the curious industry of Oldys, and the united labours of very able writers, could not 85 secure public favour; this treasure of our literary history was on the point of being suspended, when a poem by Gilbert West drew the public attention to that elaborate work, which, however, still languished, and was hastily concluded. Granger says of his admirable work, in one of his letters—“On a fair state of my account, it would appear that my labours in the improvement of my work do not amount to half the pay of a scavenger!” He received only one hundred pounds to the times of Charles I., and the rest to depend on public favour for the continuation. The sale was sluggish; even Walpole seemed doubtful of its success, though he probably secretly envied the skill of our portrait-painter. It was too philosophical for the mere collector, and it took near ten years before it reached the hands of philosophers; the author derived little profit, and never lived to see its popularity established! We have had many highly valuable works suspended for their want of public patronage, to the utter disappointment, and sometimes the ruin of their authors; such are Oldys’s “British Librarian,” Morgan’s “Phœnix Britannicus,” Dr. Berkenhout’s “Biographia Literaria,” Professor Martyn’s and Dr. Lettice’s “Antiquities of Herculaneum:” all these are first volumes, there are no seconds! They are now rare, curious, and high priced! Ungrateful public! Unhappy authors!

That noble enthusiasm which so strongly characterises genius, in productions whose originality is of a less ambiguous nature, has been experienced by some of these laborious authors, who have sacrificed their lives and fortunes to their beloved studies. The enthusiasm of literature has often been that of heroism, and many have not shrunk from the forlorn hope.

Rushworth and Rymer, to whose collections our history stands so deeply indebted, must have strongly felt this literary ardour, for they passed their lives in forming them; till Rymer, in the utmost distress, was obliged to sell his books and his fifty volumes of MS. which he could not get printed; and Rushworth died in the King’s Bench of a broken heart. Many of his papers still remain unpublished. His ruling passion was amassing state matters, and he voluntarily neglected great opportunities of acquiring a large fortune for this entire devotion of his life. The same fate has awaited the similar labours of many authors to whom the history of our country lies under deep obligations. Arthur Collins, the historiographer of our Peerage, and the curious collector of 86 the valuable “Sydney Papers,” and other collections, passed his life in reselling these works of antiquity, in giving authenticity to our history, or contributing fresh materials to it; but his midnight vigils were cheered by no patronage, nor his labours valued, till the eye that pored on the mutilated MS. was for ever closed. Of all those curious works of the late Mr. Strutt, which are now bearing such high prices, all were produced by extensive reading, and illustrated by his own drawings, from the manuscripts of different epochs in our history. What was the result to that ingenious artist and author, who, under the plain simplicity of an antiquary, concealed a fine poetical mind, and an enthusiasm for his beloved pursuits to which only we are indebted for them? Strutt, living in the greatest obscurity, and voluntarily sacrificing all the ordinary views of life, and the trade of his burin, solely attached to national antiquities, and charmed by calling them into a fresh existence under his pencil, I have witnessed at the British Museum, forgetting for whole days his miseries, in sedulous research and delightful labour; at times even doubtful whether he could get his works printed; for some of which he was not regaled even with the Roman supper of “a radish and an egg.” How he left his domestic affairs, his son can tell; how his works have tripled their value, the booksellers. In writing on the calamities attending the love of literary labour, Mr. John Nichols, the modest annalist of the literary history of the last century, and the friend of half the departed genius of our country, cannot but occur to me. He zealously published more than fifty works, illustrating the literature and the antiquities of the country; labours not given to the world without great sacrifices. Bishop Hurd, with friendly solicitude, writes to Mr. Nichols on some of his own publications, “While you are enriching the Antiquarian world” (and, by the Life of Bowyer, may be added the Literary), “I hope you do not forget yourself. The profession of an author, I know from experience, is not a lucrative one.—I only mention this because I see a large catalogue of your publications.” At another time the Bishop writes, “You are very good to excuse my freedom with you; but, as times go, almost any trade is better than that of an author,” &c. On these notes Mr. Nichols confesses, “I have had some occasion to regret that I did not attend to the judicious suggestions.” We owe to the late Thomas Davies, the author of “Garrick’s Life,” and other literary works, beautiful editions of 87 some of our elder poets, which are now eagerly sought after, yet, though all his publications were of the best kinds, and are now of increasing value, the taste of Tom Davies twice ended in bankruptcy. It is to be lamented for the cause of literature, that even a bookseller may have too refined a taste for his trade; it must always be his interest to float on the current of public taste, whatever that may be; should he have an ambition to create it, he will be anticipating a more cultivated curiosity by half a century; thus the business of a bookseller rarely accords with the design of advancing our literature.

The works of literature, it is then but too evident, receive no equivalent; let this be recollected by him who would draw his existence from them. A young writer often resembles that imaginary author whom Johnson, in a humorous letter in “The Idler” (No. 55), represents as having composed a work “of universal curiosity, computed that it would call for many editions of his book, and that in five years he should gain fifteen thousand pounds by the sale of thirty thousand copies.” There are, indeed, some who have been dazzled by the good fortune of Gibbon, Robertson, and Hume; we are to consider these favourites, not merely as authors, but as possessing, by their situation in life, a certain independence which preserved them from the vexations of the authors I have noticed. Observe, however, that the uncommon sum Gibbon received for copyright, though it excited the astonishment of the philosopher himself, was for the continued labour of a whole life, and probably the library he had purchased for his work equalled at least in cost the produce of his pen; the tools cost the workman as much as he obtained for his work. Six thousand pounds gained on these terms will keep an author indigent.

Many great labours have been designed by their authors even to be posthumous, prompted only by their love of study and a patriotic zeal. Bishop Kennett’s stupendous “Register and Chronicle,” volume I., is one of those astonishing labours which could only have been produced by the pleasure of study urged by the strong love of posterity.[66] It is a diary 88 in which the bishop, one of our most studious and active authors, has recorded every matter of fact, “delivered in the words of the most authentic books, papers, and records.” The design was to preserve our literary history from the Restoration. This silent labour he had been pursuing all his life, and published the first volume in his sixty-eighth year, the very year he died. But he was so sensible of the coyness of the public taste for what he calls, in a letter to a literary friend, “a tedious heavy book,” that he gave it away to the publisher. “The volume, too large, brings me no profit. In good truth, the scheme was laid for conscience’ sake, to restore a good old principle that history should be purely matter of fact, that every reader, by examining and comparing, may make out a history by his own judgment. I have collections transcribed for another volume, if the bookseller will run the hazard of printing.” This volume has never appeared, and the bookseller probably lost a considerable sum by the one published, which valuable volume is now procured with difficulty.[67]

These laborious authors have commenced their literary life with a glowing ardour, though the feelings of genius have been obstructed by those numerous causes which occur too frequently in the life of a literary man.

Let us listen to Strutt, whom we have just noticed, and let us learn what he proposed doing in the first age of fancy.

Having obtained the first gold medal ever given at the Royal Academy, he writes to his mother, and thus thanks her and his friends for their deep interest in his success:—

“I will at least strive to the utmost to give my benefactors no reason to think their pains thrown away. If I should 89 not be able to abound in riches, yet, by God’s help, I will strive to pluck that palm which the greatest artists of foregoing ages have done before me; I will strive to leave my name behind me in the world, if not in the splendour that some have, at least with some marks of assiduity and study; which, I can assure you, shall never be wanting in me. Who can bear to hear the names of Raphael, Titian, Michael Angelo, &c., the most famous of the Italian masters, in the mouth of every one, and not wish to be like them? And to be like them, we must study as they have done, take such pains, and labour continually like them; the which shall not be wanting on my side, I dare affirm; so that, should I not succeed, I may rest contented, and say I have done my utmost. God has blessed me with a mind to undertake. You, dear madam, will excuse my vanity; you know me, from my childish days, to have been a vain boy, always desirous to execute something to gain me praises from every one; always scheming and imitating whatever I saw done by anybody.”

And when Strutt settled in the metropolis, and studied at the British Museum, amid all the stores of knowledge and art, his imagination delighted to expatiate in its future prospects. In a letter to a friend he has thus chronicled his feelings:

“I would not only be a great antiquary, but a refined thinker; I would not only discover antiquities, but would, by explaining their use, render them useful. Such vast funds of knowledge lie hid in the antiquated remains of the earlier ages; these I would bring forth, and set in their true light.”

Poor Strutt, at the close of life, was returning to his own first and natural energies, in producing a work of the imagination. He had made considerable progress in one, and the early parts which he had finished bear the stamp of genius; it is entitled “Queenhoo-hall, a Romance of ancient times,” full of the picturesque manners, and costume, and characters of the age, in which he was so conversant; with many lyrical pieces, which often are full of poetic feeling—but he was called off from the work to prepare a more laborious one. “Queenhoo-hall” remained a heap of fragments at his death; except the first volume, and was filled up by a stranger hand. The stranger was Sir Walter Scott, and “Queenhoo-hall” was the origin of that glorious series of romances where antiquarianism has taken the shape of imagination.


Writing on the calamities attached to literature, I must notice one of a more recondite nature, yet perhaps few literary agonies are more keenly felt. I would not excite an undue sympathy for a class of writers who are usually considered as drudges; but the present case claims our sympathy.

There are men of letters, who, early in life, have formed some favourite plan of literary labour, which they have unremittingly pursued, till, sometimes near the close of life, they either discover their inability to terminate it, or begin to depreciate their own constant labour. The literary architect has grown gray over his edifice; and, as if the black wand of enchantment had waved over it, the colonnades become interminable, the pillars seem to want a foundation, and all the rich materials he had collected together, lie before him in all the disorder of ruins. It may be urged that the reward of literary labour, like the consolations of virtue, must be drawn with all their sweetness from itself; or, that if the author be incompetent, he must pay the price of his incapacity. This may be Stoicism, but it is not humanity. The truth is, there is always a latent love of fame, that prompts to this strong devotion of labour; and he who has given a long life to that which he has so much desired, and can never enjoy, might well be excused receiving our insults, if he cannot extort our pity.

A remarkable instance occurs in the fate of the late Rev. William Cole;[68] he was the college friend of Walpole, 91 Mason, and Gray; a striking proof how dissimilar habits and opposite tastes and feelings can associate in literary friendship; for Cole, indeed, the public had informed him that his friends were poets and men of wit; and for them, Cole’s patient and curious turn was useful, and, by its extravagant trifling, must have been very amusing. He had a gossip’s ear, and a tatler’s pen—and, among better things, wrote down every grain of literary scandal his insatiable and minute curiosity could lick up; as patient and voracious as an ant-eater, he stretched out his tongue till it was covered by the tiny creatures, and drew them all in at one digestion. All these tales were registered with the utmost simplicity, as the reporter received them; but, being but tales, the exactness of his truth made them still more dangerous lies, by being perpetuated; in his reflections he spared neither friend nor foe; yet, still anxious after truth, and usually telling lies, it is very amusing to observe, that, as he proceeds, he very laudably contradicts, or explains away in subsequent memoranda what he had before registered. Walpole, in a correspondence of forty years, he was perpetually flattering, though he must imperfectly have relished his fine taste, while he abhorred his more liberal principles, to which sometimes he addressed a submissive remonstrance. He has at times written a letter coolly, and, at the same moment, chronicled his suppressed feelings in his diary, with all the flame and sputter of his strong prejudices. He was expressly nicknamed Cardinal Cole. These scandalous chronicles, which only show the violence of his prejudices, without the force of genius, or the acuteness of penetration, were ordered not to be opened till twenty years after his decease; he wished to do as little mischief as he could, but loved to do some. I well remember the cruel anxiety which prevailed in the nineteenth year of these inclosures; it spoiled the digestions of several of our literati who had had the misfortune of Cole’s intimate friendship, or enmity. One of these was the writer of the Life of Thomas Baker, the Cambridge Antiquary, who prognosticated all the evil he among others was to endure; and, writhing in fancy under the whip not yet untwisted, justly enough exclaims in his agony, “The attempt to keep these 92 characters from the public till the subjects of them shall be no more, seems to be peculiarly cruel and ungenerous, since it is precluding them from vindicating themselves from such injurious aspersions, as their friends, perhaps however willing, may at that distance of time be incapable of removing.” With this author, Mr. Masters, Cole had quarrelled so often, that Masters writes, “I am well acquainted with the fickleness of his disposition for more than forty years past.”

When the lid was removed from this Pandora’s box, it happened that some of his intimate friends were alive to perceive in what strange figures they were exhibited by their quondam admirer!

Cole, however, bequeathed to the nation, among his unpublished works, a vast mass of antiquities and historical collections, and one valuable legacy of literary materials. When I turned over the papers of this literary antiquary, I found the recorded cries of a literary martyr.

Cole had passed a long life in the pertinacious labour of forming an “Athenæ Cantabrigienses,” and other literary collections—designed as a companion to the work of Anthony Wood. These mighty labours exist in more than fifty folio volumes in his own writing. He began these collections about the year 1745; in a fly-leaf of 1777 I found the following melancholy state of his feelings and a literary confession, as forcibly expressed as it is painful to read, when we consider that they are the wailings of a most zealous votary:

“In good truth, whoever undertakes this drudgery of an ‘Athenæ Cantabrigienses’ must be contented with no prospect of credit and reputation to himself, and with the mortifying reflection that after all his pains and study, through life, he must be looked upon in a humble light, and only as a journeyman to Anthony Wood, whose excellent book of the same sort will ever preclude any other, who shall follow him in the same track, from all hopes of fame; and will only represent him as an imitator of so original a pattern. For, at this time of day, all great characters, both Cantabrigians and Oxonians, are already published to the world, either in his book, or various others; so that the collection, unless the same characters are reprinted here, must be made up of second-rate persons, and the refuse of authorship.—However, as I have begun, and made so large a progress in this undertaking, it is death to think of leaving it off, though, from the 93 former considerations, so little credit is to be expected from it.”

Such were the fruits, and such the agonies, of nearly half a century of assiduous and zealous literary labour! Cole urges a strong claim to be noticed among our literary calamities. Another of his miseries was his uncertainty in what manner he should dispose of his collections: and he has put down this naïve memorandum—“I have long wavered how to dispose of all my MS. volumes; to give them to King’s College, would be to throw them into a horsepond; and I had as lieve do one as the other; they are generally so conceited of their Latin and Greek, that all other studies are barbarism.”[69]

The dread of incompleteness has attended the life-labours (if the expression may be allowed) of several other authors who have never published their works. Such was the learned Bishop Lloyd, and the Rev. Thomas Baker, who was first engaged in the same pursuit as Cole, and carried it on to the extent of about forty volumes in folio. Lloyd is described by Burnet as having “many volumes of materials upon all subjects, so that he could, with very little labour, write on any of them, with more life in his imagination, and a truer judgment, than may seem consistent with such a laborious course of study; but he did not lay out his learning with the same diligence as he laid it in.” It is mortifying to learn, in the words of Johnson, that “he was always hesitating and inquiring, raising objections, and removing them, and waiting for clearer light and fuller discovery.” Many of the labours of this learned bishop were at length consumed in the kitchen of his descendant. “Baker (says Johnson), after many years passed in biography, left his manuscripts to be buried in a library, because that was imperfect which could never be perfected.” And to complete the absurdity, or to heighten the calamity which the want of these useful labours makes every literary man feel, half of the collections of Baker sleep in their dust in a turret of the University; while the other, deposited in our national library at the British Museum, and frequently used, are rendered imperfect by this unnatural divorce.

I will illustrate the character of a laborious author by that of Anthony Wood.


Wood’s “Athenæ Oxonienses” is a history of near a thousand of our native authors; he paints their characters, and enters into the spirit of their writings. But authors of this complexion, and works of this nature, are liable to be slighted; for the fastidious are petulant, the volatile inexperienced, and those who cultivate a single province in literature are disposed, too often, to lay all others under a state of interdiction.

Warburton, in a work thrown out in the heat of unchastised youth, and afterwards withdrawn from public inquiry, has said of the “Athenæ Oxonienses”—

“Of all those writings given us by the learned Oxford antiquary, there is not one that is not a disgrace to letters; most of them are so to common sense, and some even to human nature. Yet how set out! how tricked! how adorned! how extolled!”[70]

The whole tenor of Wood’s life testifies, as he himself tells us, that “books and MSS. formed his Elysium, and he wished to be dead to the world.” This sovereign passion marked him early in life, and the image of death could not disturb it. When young, “he walked mostly alone, was given much to thinking and melancholy.” The deliciæ of his life were the more liberal studies of painting and music, intermixed with those of antiquity; nor could his family; who checked such unproductive studies, ever check his love of them. With what a firm and noble spirit he says—

“When he came to full years, he perceived it was his natural genie, and he could not avoid them—they crowded on him—he could never give a reason why he should delight in those studies, more than in others, so prevalent was nature, mixed with a generosity of mind, and a hatred to all that was servile, sneaking, or advantageous for lucre-sake.”

These are not the roundings of a period, but the pure expressions of a man who had all the simplicity of childhood in his feelings. Could such vehement emotions have been excited in the unanimated breast of a clod of literature? Thus early Anthony Wood betrayed the characteristics of genius; nor did the literary passion desert him in his last moments. With his dying hands he still grasped his beloved papers, and his last mortal thoughts dwelt on his Athenæ Oxonienses.[71]


It is no common occurrence to view an author speechless in the hour of death, yet fervently occupied by his posthumous fame. Two friends went into his study to sort that vast multitude of papers, notes, letters—his more private ones he had ordered not to be opened for seven years; about two bushels full were ordered for the fire, which they had lighted for the occasion. “As he was expiring, he expressed both his knowledge and approbation of what was done by throwing out his hands.”

Turn over his Herculean labour; do not admire less his fearlessness of danger, than his indefatigable pursuit of truth. He wrote of his contemporaries as if he felt a right to judge of them, and as if he were living in the succeeding age; courtier, fanatic, or papist, were much alike to honest Anthony; for he professes himself “such an universal lover of all mankind, that he wished there might be no cheat put upon readers and writers in the business of commendations. And (says he) since every one will have a double balance, one for his own party, and another for his adversary, all he could do is to amass together what every side thinks will make best weight for themselves. Let posterity hold the scales.”

Anthony might have added, “I have held them.” This uninterrupted activity of his spirits was the action of a sage, not the bustle of one intent merely on heaping up a book.

“He never wrote in post, with his body and thoughts in a hurry, but in a fixed abode, and with a deliberate pen. And he never concealed an ungrateful truth, nor flourished over a weak place, but in sincerity of meaning and expression.”

Anthony Wood cloistered an athletic mind, a hermit critic abstracted from the world, existing more with posterity than amid his contemporaries. His prejudices were the keener from the very energies of the mind that produced them; but, as he practises no deception on his reader, we know the causes of his anger or his love. And, as an original thinker creates a style for himself, from the circumstance of not attending to style at all, but to feeling, so Anthony Wood’s has all the peculiarity of the writer. Critics of short views have attempted to screen it from ridicule, attributing his uncouth style to the age he lived in. But not one in his own time nor since, has composed in the same style. The austerity 96 and the quickness of his feelings vigorously stamped all their roughness and vivacity on every sentence. He describes his own style as “an honest, plain English dress, without flourishes or affectation of style, as best becomes a history of truth and matters of fact. It is the first (work) of its nature that has ever been printed in our own, or in any other mother-tongue.”

It is, indeed, an honest Montaigne-like simplicity. Acrimonious and cynical, he is always sincere, and never dull. Old Anthony to me is an admirable character-painter, for anger and love are often picturesque. And among our literary historians he might be compared, for the effect he produces, to Albert Durer, whose kind of antique rudeness has a sharp outline, neither beautiful nor flowing; and, without a genius for the magic of light and shade, he is too close a copier of Nature to affect us by ideal forms.

The independence of his mind nerved his ample volumes, his fortitude he displayed in the contest with the University itself, and his firmness in censuring Lord Clarendon, the head of his own party. Could such a work, and such an original manner, have proceeded from an ordinary intellect? Wit may sparkle, and sarcasm may bite; but the cause of literature is injured when the industry of such a mind is ranked with that of “the hewers of wood, and drawers of water:” ponderous compilers of creeping commentators. Such a work as the “Athenæ Oxonienses” involved in its pursuits some of the higher qualities of the intellect; a voluntary devotion of life, a sacrifice of personal enjoyments, a noble design combining many views, some present and some prescient, a clear vigorous spirit equally diffused over a vast surface. But it is the hard fate of authors of this class to be levelled with their inferiors!

Let us exhibit one more picture of the calamities of a laborious author, in the character of Joshua Barnes, editor of Homer, Euripides, and Anacreon, and the writer of a vast number of miscellaneous compositions in history and poetry. Besides the works he published, he left behind him nearly fifty unfinished ones; many were epic poems, all intended to be in twelve books, and some had reached their eighth! His folio volume of “The History of Edward III.” is a labour of valuable research. He wrote with equal facility in Greek, Latin, and his own language, and he wrote all his days; and, in a word, having little or nothing but his Greek professorship, 97 not exceeding forty pounds a year, Barnes, who had a great memory, a little imagination, and no judgment, saw the close of a life, devoted to the studies of humanity, settle around him in gloom and despair. The great idol of his mind was the edition of his Homer, which seems to have completed his ruin; he was haunted all his days with a notion that he was persecuted by envy, and much undervalued in the world; the sad consolation of the secondary and third-rate authors, who often die persuaded of the existence of ideal enemies. To be enabled to publish his Homer at an enormous charge, he wrote a poem, the design of which is to prove that Solomon was the author of the Iliad; and it has been said that this was done to interest his wife, who had some property, to lend her aid towards the publication of so divine a work. This happy pun was applied for his epitaph:—

Joshua Barnes,

Felicis memoriæ, judicium expectans.

Here lieth

Joshua Barnes,

Of happy memory, awaiting judgment!

The year before he died he addressed the following letter to the Earl of Oxford, which I transcribe from the original. It is curious to observe how the veteran and unhappy scribbler, after his vows of retirement from the world of letters, thoroughly disgusted with “all human learning,” gently hints to his patron, that he has ready for the press, a singular variety of contrasted works; yet even then he did not venture to disclose one-tenth part of his concealed treasures!


Oct. 16, 1711.

My Hon. Lord,

“This, not in any doubt of your goodness and high respect to learning, for I have fresh instances of it every day; but because I am prevented in my design of waiting personally on you, being called away by my business for Cambridge, to read Greek lectures this term; and my circumstances are pressing, being, through the combination of booksellers, and the meaner arts of others, too much prejudiced in the sale. I am not neither sufficiently ascertained whether my Homer and letters came to your honour; surely the vast charges of that edition has almost broke my courage, there being much more trouble in putting off the impression, and 98 contending with a subtle and unkind world, than in all the study and management of the press.

“Others, my lord, are younger, and their hopes and helps are fresher; I have done as much in the way of learning as any man living, but have received less encouragement than any, having nothing but my Greek professorship, which is but forty pounds per annum, that I can call my own, and more than half of that is taken up by my expenses of lodging and diet in terme time at Cambridge.

“I was obliged to take up three hundred and fifty pounds on interest towards this last work, whereof I still owe two hundred pounds, and two hundred more for the printing; the whole expense arising to about one thousand pounds. I have lived in the university above thirty years, fellow of a college now above forty years’ standing, and fifty-eight years of age; am bachelor of divinity, and have preached before kings; but am now your honour’s suppliant, and would fain retire from the study of humane learning, which has been so little beneficial to me, if I might have a little prebend, or sufficient anchor to lay hold on; only I have two or three matters ready for the press—an ecclesiastical history, Latin; an heroic poem of the Black Prince, Latin; another of Queen Anne, English, finished; a treatise of Columnes, Latin; and an accurate treatise about Homer, Greek, Latin, &c. I would fain be permitted the honour to make use of your name in some one, or most of these, and to be, &c.,

Joshua Barnes.[72]

He died nine months afterwards. Homer did not improve in sale; and the sweets of patronage were not even tasted. This, then, is the history of a man of great learning, of the most pertinacious industry, but somewhat allied to the family of the Scribleri.


William Pattison was a young poet who perished in his twentieth year; his character and his fate resemble those of Chatterton. He was one more child of that family of genius, whose passions, like the torch, kindle but to consume themselves.


The youth of Pattison was that of a poet. Many become irrecoverably poets by local influence; and Beattie could hardly have thrown his “Minstrel” into a more poetical solitude than the singular spot which was haunted by our young bard. His first misfortune was that of having an anti-poetical parent; his next was that of having discovered a spot which confirmed his poetical habits, inspiring all the melancholy and sensibility he loved to indulge. This spot, which in his fancy resembled some favourite description in Cowley, he called “Cowley’s Walk.” Some friend, who was himself no common painter of fancy, has delineated the whole scenery with minute touches, and a freshness of colouring, warm with reality. Such a poetical habitation becomes a part of the poet himself, reflecting his character, and even descriptive of his manners.

“On one side of ‘Cowley’s Walk’ is a huge rock, grown over with moss and ivy climbing on its sides, and in some parts small trees spring out of the crevices of the rock; at the bottom are a wild plantation of irregular trees, in every part looking aged and venerable. Among these cavities, one larger than the rest was the cave he loved to sit in: arched like a canopy, its rustic borders were edged with ivy hanging down, overshadowing the place, and hence he called it (for poets must give a name to every object they love) ‘Hederinda,’ bearing ivy. At the foot of this grotto a stream of water ran along the walk, so that its level path had trees and water on one side, and a wild rough precipice on the other. In winter, this spot looked full of horror—the naked trees, the dark rock, and the desolate waste; but in the spring, the singing of the birds, the fragrancy of the flowers, and the murmuring of the stream, blended all their enchantment.”

Here, in the heat of the day, he escaped into the “Hederinda,” and shared with friends his rapture and his solitude; and here through summer nights, in the light of the moon, he meditated and melodised his verses by the gentle fall of the waters. Thus was Pattison fixed and bound up in the strongest spell the demon of poetry ever drew around a susceptible and careless youth.

He was now a decided poet. At Sidney College, in Cambridge, he was greatly loved; till, on a quarrel with a rigid tutor, he rashly cut his name out of the college book, and quitted it for ever in utter thoughtlessness and gaiety, leaving 100 his gown behind, as his locum tenens, to make his apology, by pinning on it a satirical farewell.

Whoever gives himself the pains to stoop,
And take my venerable tatters up,
To his presuming inquisition I,
In loco Pattisoni, thus reply:
“Tired with the senseless jargon of the gown,
My master left the college for the town,
And scorns his precious minutes to regale
With wretched college-wit and college-ale.”

He flew to the metropolis to take up the trade of a poet.

A translation of Ovid’s “Epistles” had engaged his attention during two years; his own genius seemed inexhaustible; and pleasure and fame were awaiting the poetical emigrant. He resisted all kind importunities to return to college; he could not endure submission, and declares “his spirit cannot bear control.” One friend “fears the innumerable temptations to which one of his complexion is liable in such a populous place.” Pattison was much loved; he had all the generous impetuosity of youthful genius; but he had resolved on running the perilous career of literary glory, and he added one more to the countless thousands who perish in obscurity.

His first letters are written with the same spirit that distinguishes Chatterton’s; all he hopes he seems to realise. He mixes among the wits, dates from Button’s, and drinks with Concanen healths to college friends, till they lose their own; more dangerous Muses condescend to exhibit themselves to the young poet in the park; and he was to be introduced to Pope. All is exultation! Miserable youth! The first thought of prudence appears in a resolution of soliciting subscriptions from all persons, for a volume of poems.

His young friends at college exerted their warm patronage; those in his native North condemn him, and save their crowns; Pope admits of no interview, but lends his name, and bestows half-a-crown for a volume of poetry, which he did not want; the poet wearies kindness, and would extort charity even from brother-poets; petitions lords and ladies; and, as his wants grow on him, his shame decreases.

How the scene has changed in a few months! He acknowledges to a friend, that “his heart was broke through the misfortunes he had fallen under;” he declares “he feels himself near the borders of death.” In moments like these he probably composed the following lines, awfully addressed,



Good heaven! this mystery of life explain,
Nor let me think I bear the load in vain;
Lest, with the tedious passage cheerless grown,
Urged by despair, I throw the burden down.

But the torture of genius, when all its passions are strained on the rack, was never more pathetically expressed than in the following letter:—

Sir,—If you was ever touched with a sense of humanity, consider my condition: what I am, my proposals will inform you; what I have been, Sidney College, in Cambridge, can witness; but what I shall be some few hours hence, I tremble to think! Spare my blushes!—I have not enjoyed the common necessaries of life for these two days, and can hardly hold to subscribe myself,

“Yours, &c.”

The picture is finished—it admits not of another stroke. Such was the complete misery which Savage, Boyse, Chatterton, and more innocent spirits devoted to literature, have endured—but not long—for they must perish in their youth!

Henry Carey was one of our most popular poets; he, indeed, has unluckily met with only dictionary critics, or what is as fatal to genius, the cold and undistinguishing commendation of grave men on subjects of humour, wit, and the lighter poetry. The works of Carey do not appear in any of our great collections, where Walsh, Duke, and Yalden slumber on the shelf.

Yet Carey was a true son of the Muses, and the most successful writer in our language. He is the author of several little national poems. In early life he successfully burlesqued the affected versification of Ambrose Philips, in his baby poems, to which he gave the fortunate appellation of “Namby Pamby, a panegyric on the new versification;” a term descriptive in sound of those chiming follies, and now become a technical term in modern criticism. Carey’s “Namby Pamby” was at first considered by Swift as the satirical effusion of Pope, and by Pope as the humorous ridicule of Swift. His ballad of “Sally in our Alley” was more than once commended for its nature by Addison, and is sung to this day. Of the national song, “God save the King,” it is supposed he was the author 102 both of the words and of the music.[73] He was very successful on the stage, and wrote admirable burlesques of the Italian Opera, in “The Dragon of Wantley,” and “The Dragoness;” and the mock tragedy of “Chrononhotonthologos” is not forgotten. Among his Poems lie still concealed several original pieces; those which have a political turn are particularly good, for the politics of Carey were those of a poet and a patriot. I refer the politician who has any taste for poetry and humour to “The Grumbletonians, or the Dogs without doors, a Fable,” very instructive to those grown-up folks, “The Ins and the Outs.” “Carey’s Wish” is in this class; and, as the purity of election remains still among the desiderata of every true Briton, a poem on that subject by the patriotic author of our national hymn of “God save the King” may be acceptable.


Cursed be the wretch that’s bought and sold,
And barters liberty for gold;
For when election is not free,
In vain we boast of liberty:
And he who sells his single right,
Would sell his country, if he might.

When liberty is put to sale
For wine, for money, or for ale,
The sellers must be abject slaves,
The buyers vile designing knaves;
A proverb it has been of old,
The devil’s bought but to be sold.

This maxim in the statesman’s school
Is always taught, divide and rule.
All parties are to him a joke:
While zealots foam, he fits the yoke.
Let men their reason once resume;
’Tis then the statesman’s turn to fume.
Learn, learn, ye Britons, to unite;
Leave off the old exploded bite;
Henceforth let Whig and Tory cease,
And turn all party rage to peace;
Rouse and revive your ancient glory;
Unite, and drive the world before you.

To the ballad of “Sally in our Alley” Carey has prefixed an argument so full of nature, that the song may hereafter derive an additional interest from its simple origin. The author assures the reader that the popular notion that the subject of his ballad had been the noted Sally Salisbury, is perfectly erroneous, he being a stranger to her name at the time the song was composed.

“As innocence and virtue were ever the boundaries of his Muse, so in this little poem he had no other view than to set forth the beauty of a chaste and disinterested passion, even in the lowest class of human life. The real occasion was this: A shoemaker’s ’prentice, making holiday with his sweetheart, treated her with a sight of Bedlam, the puppet-shows, the flying-chairs, and all the elegancies of Moorfields; from whence, proceeding to the Farthing Pye-house, he gave her a collation of buns, cheesecakes, gammon of bacon, stuffed beef, and bottled ale; through all which scenes the author dodged them (charmed with the simplicity of their courtship), from whence he drew this little sketch of Nature; but, being then young and obscure, he was very much ridiculed for this performance; which, nevertheless, made its way into the polite world, and amply recompensed him by the applause of the divine Addison, who was pleased (more than once) to mention it with approbation.”

In “The Poet’s Resentment” poor Carey had once forsworn “the harlot Muse:”—

Far, far away then chase the harlot Muse,
Nor let her thus thy noon of life abuse;
Mix with the common crowd, unheard, unseen,
And if again thou tempt’st the vulgar praise,
Mayst thou be crown’d with birch instead of bays!

Poets make such oaths in sincerity, and break them in rapture.

At the time that this poet could neither walk the streets nor be seated at the convivial board, without listening to his own songs and his own music—for, in truth, the whole nation was echoing his verse, and crowded theatres were applauding 104 his wit and humour—while this very man himself, urged by his strong humanity, founded a “Fund for decayed Musicians”—he was so broken-hearted, and his own common comforts so utterly neglected, that in despair, not waiting for nature to relieve him from the burden of existence, he laid violent hands on himself; and when found dead, had only a halfpenny in his pocket! Such was the fate of the author of some of the most popular pieces in our language. He left a son, who inherited his misery, and a gleam of his genius.


Dr. Zachary Grey, the editor of “Hudibras,” is the father of our modern commentators.[74] His case is rather peculiar; I know not whether the father, by an odd anticipation, was doomed to suffer for the sins of his children, or whether his own have been visited on the third generation; it is certain that never was an author more overpowered by the attacks he received from the light and indiscriminating shafts of ignorant wits. He was ridiculed and abused for having assisted us to comprehend the wit of an author, which, without that aid, at this day would have been nearly lost to us; and whose singular subject involved persons and events which required the very thing he gave,—historical and explanatory notes.

A first thought, and all the danger of an original invention, which is always imperfectly understood by the superficial, was poor Dr. Grey’s merit. He was modest and laborious, and he had the sagacity to discover what Butler wanted, and what the public required. His project was a happy thought, to commentate on a singular work which has scarcely a parallel in modern literature, if we except the “Satyre Ménippée” of the French, which is, in prose, the exact counterpart of “Hudibras” in rhyme; for our rivals have had the same state revolution, in which the same dramatic personages passed 105 over their national stage, with the same incidents, in the civil wars of the ambitious Guises, and the citizen-reformers. They, too, found a Butler, though in prose, a Grey in Duchat, and, as well as they could, a Hogarth. An edition, which appeared in 1711, might have served as the model of Grey’s Hudibras.

It was, however, a happy thought in our commentator, to turn over the contemporary writers to collect the events and discover the personages alluded to by Butler; to read what the poet read, to observe what the poet observed. This was at once throwing himself and the reader back into an age, of which even the likeness had disappeared, and familiarising us with distant objects, which had been lost to us in the haze and mists of time. For this, not only a new mode of travelling, but a new road was to be opened; the secret history, the fugitive pamphlet, the obsolete satire, the ancient comedy—such were the many curious volumes whose dust was to be cleared away, to cast a new radiance on the fading colours of a moveable picture of manners; the wittiest ever exhibited to mankind. This new mode of research, even at this moment, is imperfectly comprehended, still ridiculed even by those who could never have understood a writer who will only be immortal in the degree he is comprehended—and whose wit could not have been felt but for the laborious curiosity of him whose “reading” has been too often aspersed for “such reading”

As was never read.

Grey was outrageously attacked by all the wits, first by Warburton, in his preface to Shakspeare, who declares that “he hardly thinks there ever appeared so execrable a heap of nonsense under the name of commentaries, as hath been lately given us on a certain satyric poet of the last age.” It is odd enough, Warburton had himself contributed towards these very notes, but, for some cause which has not been discovered, had quarrelled with Dr. Grey. I will venture a conjecture on this great conjectural critic. Warburton was always meditating to give an edition of his own of our old writers, and the sins he committed against Shakspeare he longed to practise on Butler, whose times were, indeed, a favourite period of his researches. Grey had anticipated him, and though Warburton had half reluctantly yielded the few notes he had prepared, his proud heart sickened when he beheld the 106 amazing subscription Grey obtained for his first edition of “Hudibras;” he received for that work 1500l.[75]—a proof that this publication was felt as a want by the public.

Such, however, is one of those blunt, dogmatic censures in which Warburton abounds, to impress his readers with the weight of his opinions; this great man wrote more for effect than any other of our authors, as appears by his own or some friend’s confession, that if his edition of Shakspeare did no honour to that bard, this was not the design of the commentator—which was only to do honour to himself by a display of his own exuberant erudition.

The poignant Fielding, in his preface to his “Journey to Lisbon,” has a fling at the gravity of our doctor. “The laborious, much-read Dr. Z. Grey, of whose redundant notes on ‘Hudibras’ I shall only say that it is, I am confident, the single book extant in which above 500 authors are quoted, not one of which could be found in the collection of the late Dr. Mead.” Mrs. Montague, in her letters, severely characterises the miserable father of English commentators; she wrote in youth and spirits, with no knowledge of books, and before even the unlucky commentator had published his work, but wit is the bolder by anticipation. She observes that “his dulness may be a proper ballast for doggrel; and it is better that his stupidity should make jest dull than serious and sacred things ridiculous;” alluding to his numerous theological tracts.

Such then are the hard returns which some authors are doomed to receive as the rewards of useful labours from those who do not even comprehend their nature; a wit should not be admitted as a critic till he has first proved by his gravity, or his dulness if he chooses, that he has some knowledge; for it is the privilege and nature of wit to write fastest and best on what it least understands. Knowledge only encumbers and confines its flights.


Of all the sorrows in which the female character may participate, there are few more affecting than those of an authoress;—often insulated and unprotected in society—with all the sensibility of the sex, encountering miseries which break the 107 spirits of men; with the repugnance arising from that delicacy which trembles when it quits its retirement.

My acquaintance with an unfortunate lady of the name of Eliza Ryves, was casual and interrupted; yet I witnessed the bitterness of “hope deferred, which maketh the heart sick.” She sunk, by the slow wastings of grief, into a grave which probably does not record the name of its martyr of literature.

She was descended from a family of distinction in Ireland; but as she expressed it, “she had been deprived of her birthright by the chicanery of law.” In her former hours of tranquillity she had published some elegant odes, had written a tragedy and comedies—all which remained in MS. In her distress she looked up to her pen as a source of existence; and an elegant genius and a woman of polished manners commenced the life of a female trader in literature.

Conceive the repulses of a modest and delicate woman in her attempts to appreciate the value of a manuscript with its purchaser. She has frequently returned from the booksellers to her dreadful solitude to hasten to her bed—in all the bodily pains of misery, she has sought in uneasy slumbers a temporary forgetfulness of griefs which were to recur on the morrow. Elegant literature is always of doubtful acceptance with the public, and Eliza Ryves came at length to try the most masculine exertions of the pen. She wrote for one newspaper much political matter; but the proprietor was too great a politician for the writer of politics, for he only praised the labour he never paid; much poetry for another, in which, being one of the correspondents of Della Crusca, in payment of her verses she got nothing but verses; the most astonishing exertion for a female pen was the entire composition of the historical and political portion of some Annual Register. So little profitable were all these laborious and original efforts, that every day did not bring its “daily bread.” Yet even in her poverty her native benevolence could make her generous; for she has deprived herself of her meal to provide with one an unhappy family dwelling under the same roof.

Advised to adopt the mode of translation, and being ignorant of the French language, she retired to an obscure lodging at Islington, which she never quitted till she had produced a good version of Rousseau’s “Social Compact,” Raynal’s “Letter to the National Assembly,” and finally translated De la Croix’s “Review of the Constitutions of the principal 108 States in Europe,” in two large volumes with intelligent notes. All these works, so much at variance with her taste, left her with her health much broken, and a mind which might be said to have nearly survived the body.

Yet even at a moment so unfavourable, her ardent spirit engaged in a translation of Froissart. At the British Museum I have seen her conning over the magnificent and voluminous MS. of the old chronicler, and by its side Lord Berners’ version, printed in the reign of Henry VIII. It was evident that his lordship was employed as a spy on Froissart, to inform her of what was going forward in the French camp; and she soon perceived, for her taste was delicate, that it required an ancient lord and knight, with all his antiquity of phrase, to break a lance with the still more ancient chivalric Frenchman. The familiar elegance of modern style failed to preserve the picturesque touches and the naïve graces of the chronicler, who wrote as the mailed knight combated—roughly or gracefully, as suited the tilt or the field. She vailed to Lord Berners; while she felt it was here necessary to understand old French, and then to write it in old English.[76] During these profitless labours hope seemed to be whispering in her lonely study. Her comedies had been in possession of the managers of the theatres during several years. They had too much merit to be rejected, perhaps too little to be acted. Year passed over year, and the last still repeated the treacherous promise of its brother. The mysterious arts of procrastination are by no one so well systematised as by the theatrical manager, nor its secret sorrows so deeply felt as by the dramatist. One of her comedies, The Debt of Honour, had been warmly approved at both theatres—where probably a copy of it may still be found. To the honour of one of the managers, he presented her with a hundred pounds on his acceptance of it. Could she avoid then flattering herself with an annual harvest?

But even this generous gift, which involved in it such golden promises, could not for ten years preserve its delusion. “I feel,” said Eliza Ryves, “the necessity of some powerful patronage, to bring my comedies forward to the world with éclat, and secure them an admiration which, should it even be deserved, is seldom bestowed, unless some leading judge of literary merit gives the sanction of his applause; and then 109 the world will chime in with his opinion, without taking the trouble to inform themselves whether it be founded in justice or partiality.” She never suspected that her comedies were not comic!—but who dare hold an argument with an ingenious mind, when it reasons from a right principle, with a wrong application to itself? It is true that a writer’s connexions have often done a great deal for a small author, and enabled some favourites of literary fashion to enjoy a usurped reputation; but it is not so evident that Eliza Ryves was a comic writer, although, doubtless, she appeared another Menander to herself. And thus an author dies in a delusion of self-flattery!

The character of Eliza Ryves was rather tender and melancholy, than brilliant and gay; and like the bruised perfume—breathing sweetness when broken into pieces. She traced her sorrows in a work of fancy, where her feelings were at least as active as her imagination. It is a small volume, entitled “The Hermit of Snowden.” Albert, opulent and fashionable, feels a passion for Lavinia, and meets the kindest return; but, having imbibed an ill opinion of women from his licentious connexions, he conceived they were slaves of passion, or of avarice. He wrongs the generous nature of Lavinia, by suspecting her of mercenary views; hence arise the perplexities of the hearts of both. Albert affects to be ruined, and spreads the report of an advantageous match. Lavinia feels all the delicacy of her situation; she loves, but “she never told her love.” She seeks for her existence in her literary labours, and perishes in want.

In the character of Lavinia, our authoress, with all the melancholy sagacity of genius, foresaw and has described her own death!—the dreadful solitude to which she was latterly condemned, when in the last stage of her poverty; her frugal mode of life; her acute sensibility; her defrauded hopes; and her exalted fortitude. She has here formed a register of all that occurred in her solitary existence. I will give one scene—to me it is pathetic—for it is like a scene at which I was present:—

“Lavinia’s lodgings were about two miles from town, in an obscure situation. I was showed up to a mean apartment, where Lavinia was sitting at work, and in a dress which indicated the greatest economy. I inquired what success she had met with in her dramatic pursuits. She waved her head, and, with a melancholy smile, replied, ‘that her hopes 110 of ever bringing any piece on the stage were now entirely over; for she found that more interest was necessary for the purpose than she could command, and that she had for that reason laid aside her comedy for ever!’ While she was talking, came in a favourite dog of Lavinia’s, which I had used to caress. The creature sprang to my arms, and I received him with my usual fondness. Lavinia endeavoured to conceal a tear which trickled down her cheek. Afterwards she said, ‘Now that I live entirely alone, I show Juno more attention than I had used to do formerly. The heart wants something to be kind to; and it consoles us for the loss of society, to see even an animal derive happiness from the endearments we bestow upon it.’”

Such was Eliza Ryves! not beautiful nor interesting in her person, but with a mind of fortitude, susceptible of all the delicacy of feminine softness, and virtuous amid her despair.[77]



Carte,” says Mr. Hallam, “is the most exact historian we have;” and Daines Barrington prefers his authority to that of any other, and many other writers confirm this opinion. Yet had this historian been an ordinary compiler, he could not have incurred a more mortifying fate; for he was compelled to retail in shilling numbers that invaluable history which we have only learned of late times to appreciate, and which was the laborious fruits of self-devotion.

Carte was the first of our historians who had the sagacity and the fortitude to ascertain where the true sources of our history lie. He discovered a new world beyond the old one of our research, and not satisfied in gleaning the res historica from its original writers—a merit which has not always been possessed by some of our popular historians—Carte opened those subterraneous veins of secret history from whence even the original writers of our history, had they possessed them, 111 might have drawn fresh knowledge and more ample views. Our domestic or civil history was scarcely attempted till Carte planned it; while all his laborious days and his literary travels on the Continent were absorbed in the creation of a History of England and of a Public Library in the metropolis, for we possessed neither. A diligent foreigner, Rapin, had compiled our history, and had opportunely found in the vast collection of Rymer’s “Fœdera” a rich accession of knowledge; but a foreigner could not sympathise with the feelings, or even understand the language, of the domestic story of our nation; our rolls and records, our state-letters, the journals of parliament, and those of the privy-council; an abundant source of private memoirs; and the hidden treasures in the state-paper office, the Cottonian and Harleian libraries; all these, and much besides, the sagacity of Carte contemplated. He had further been taught—by his own examination of the true documents of history, which he found preserved among the ancient families of France, who with a warm patriotic spirit, worthy of imitation, “often carefully preserved in their families the acts of their ancestors;” and the trésor des chartes and the dépôt pour les affaires étrangères (the state-paper office of France),—that the history of our country is interwoven with that of its neighbours, as well as with that of our own countrymen.[78]

Carte, with these enlarged views, and firm with diligence which never paused, was aware that such labours—both for the expense and assistance they demand—exceeded the powers of a private individual; but “what a single man cannot do,” he said, “may be easily done by a society, and the value of an opera subscription would be sufficient to patronise a History of England.” His valuable “History of the Duke of Ormond” had sufficiently announced the sort of man who solicited this necessary aid; nor was the moment unpropitious to his fondest hopes, for a Society for the Encouragement of Learning had been formed, and this impulse of public spirit, however weak, had, it would seem, roused into action some unexpected quarters. When Carte’s project was made known, a large subscription was raised to defray the expense of transcripts, and afford a sufficient independence to the historian; many of the nobility and the gentry subscribed ten or twenty guineas 112 annually, and several of the corporate bodies in the city honourably appeared as the public patrons of the literature of their nation. He had, perhaps, nearly a thousand a year subscribed, which he employed on the History. Thus everything promised fair both for the history and for the historian of our fatherland, and about this time he zealously published another proposal for the erection of a public library in the Mansion-house. “There is not,” observed Carte, “a great city in Europe so ill-provided with public libraries as London.” He enters into a very interesting and minute narrative of the public libraries of Paris.[79] He then also suggested the purchase of ten thousand manuscripts of the Earl of Oxford, which the nation now possess in the Harleian collection.

Though Carte failed to persuade our opulent citizens to purchase this costly honour, it is probably to his suggestion that the nation owes the British Museum. The ideas of the literary man are never thrown away, however vain at the moment, or however profitless to himself. Time preserves without injuring the image of his mind, and a following age often performs what the preceding failed to comprehend.

It was in 1743 that this work was projected, in 1747 the first volume appeared. One single act of indiscretion, an unlucky accident rather than a premeditated design, overturned in a moment this monument of history;—for it proved that our Carte, however enlarged were his views of what history ought to consist, and however experienced in collecting its most authentic materials, and accurate in their statement, was infected by a superstitious jacobitism, which seemed likely to spread itself through his extensive history. Carte indeed was no philosopher, but a very faithful historian.

Having unhappily occasion to discuss whether the King of England had, from the time of Edward the Confessor, the power of healing inherent in him before his unction, or whether the gift was conveyed by ecclesiastical hands, to show the efficacy of the royal touch, he added an idle story, which had come under his own observation, of a person who appeared to have been so healed. Carte said of this unlucky personage, so unworthily introduced five hundred years before he was born, that he had been sent to Paris to be touched by “the eldest lineal descendant of a race of kings who had indeed for a long succession of ages cured that distemper by 113 the royal touch.” The insinuation was unquestionably in favour of the Pretender, although the name of the prince was not avowed, and was a sort of promulgation of the right divine to the English throne.

The first news our author heard of his elaborate history was the discovery of this unforeseen calamity; the public indignation was roused, and subscribers, public and private, hastened to withdraw their names. The historian was left forlorn and abandoned amid his extensive collections, and Truth, which was about to be drawn out of her well by this robust labourer, was no longer imagined to lie concealed at the bottom of the waters.

Thunderstruck at this dreadful reverse to all his hopes, and witnessing the unrequited labour of more than thirty years withered in an hour, the unhappy Carte drew up a faint appeal, rendered still more weak by a long and improbable tale, that the objectionable illustration had been merely a private note which by mistake had been printed, and only designed to show that the person who had been healed improperly attributed his cure to the sanative virtue of the regal unction; since the prince in question had never been anointed. But this was plunging from Scylla into Charybdis, for it inferred that the Stuarts inherited the heavenly-gifted touch by descent. This could not avail; yet heavy was the calamity! for now an historian of the utmost probity and exactness, and whose labours were never equalled for their scope and extent, was ruined for an absurd but not peculiar opinion, and an indiscretion which was more ludicrous than dishonest.

This shock of public opinion was met with a fortitude which only strong minds experience; Carte was the true votary of study,—by habit, by devotion, and by pleasure, he persevered in producing an invaluable folio every two years; but from three thousand copies he was reduced to seven hundred and fifty, and the obscure patronage of the few who knew how to appreciate them. Death only arrested the historian’s pen—in the fourth volume. We have lost the important period of the reign of the second Charles, of which Carte declared that he had read “a series of memoirs from the beginning to the end of that reign which would have laid open all those secret intrigues which Burnet with all his genius for conjecture does not pretend to account for.”

So precious were the MS. collections Carte left behind 114 him, that the proprietor valued them at 1500l.; Philip Earl of Hardwicke paid 200l. only for the perusal, and Macpherson a larger sum for their use; and Hume, without Carte, would scarcely have any authorities. Such was the calamitous result of Carte’s historical labours, who has left others of a more philosophical cast, and of a finer taste in composition, to reap the harvest whose soil had been broken by his hand.



Ridicule may be considered as a species of eloquence; it has all its vehemence, all its exaggeration, all its power of diminution; it is irresistible! Its business is not with truth, but with its appearance; and it is this similitude, in perpetual comparison with the original, which, raising contempt, produces the ridiculous.

There is nothing real in ridicule; the more exquisite, the more it borrows from the imagination. When directed towards an individual, by preserving a unity of character in all its parts, it produces a fictitious personage, so modelled on the prototype, that we know not to distinguish the true one from the false. Even with an intimate knowledge of the real object, the ambiguous image slides into our mind, for we are at least as much influenced in our opinions by our imagination as by our judgment. Hence some great characters have come down to us spotted with the taints of indelible wit; and a satirist of this class, sporting with distant resemblances and fanciful analogies, has made the fictitious accompany for ever the real character. Piqued with Akenside for some reflections against Scotland, Smollett has exhibited a man of great genius and virtue as a most ludicrous personage; and who can discriminate, in the ridiculous physician in “Peregrine Pickle,” what is real from what is fictitious?[80]


The banterers and ridiculers possess this provoking advantage over sturdy honesty or nervous sensibility—their amusing fictions affect the world more than the plain tale that would put them down. They excite our risible emotions, while they are reducing their adversary to contempt—otherwise they would not be distinguished from gross slanderers. When the wit has gained over the laughers on his side, he has struck a blow which puts his adversary hors de combat. A grave reply can never wound ridicule, which, assuming all forms, has really none. Witty calumny and licentious raillery are airy nothings that float about us, invulnerable from their very nature, like those chimeras of hell which the sword of Æneas could not pierce—yet these shadows of truth, these false images, these fictitious realities, have made heroism tremble, turned the eloquence of wisdom into folly, and bowed down the spirit of honour itself.

Not that the legitimate use of RIDICULE is denied: the wisest men have been some of the most exquisite ridiculers; from Socrates to the Fathers, and from the Fathers to Erasmus, and from Erasmus to Butler and Swift. Ridicule is more efficacious than argument; when that keen instrument cuts what cannot be untied. “The Rehearsal” wrote down the unnatural taste for the rhyming heroic tragedies, and brought the nation back from sound to sense, from rant to passion. More important events may be traced in the history of Ridicule. When a certain set of intemperate Puritans, in the reign of Elizabeth, the ridiculous reformists of abuses in Church and State, congregated themselves under the literary 116 nom de guerre of Martin Mar-prelate, a stream of libels ran throughout the nation. The grave discourses of the archbishop and the prelates could never silence the hardy and concealed libellers. They employed a moveable printing-press, and the publishers perpetually shifting their place, long escaped detection. They declared their works were “printed in Europe, not far from some of the bouncing priests;” or they were “printed over sea, in Europe, within two furlongs of a bouncing priest, at the cost and charges of Martin Mar-prelate, gent.” It was then that Tom Nash, whom I am about to introduce to the reader’s more familiar acquaintance, the most exquisite banterer of that age of genius, turned on them their own weapons, and annihilated them into silence when they found themselves paid in their own base coin. He rebounded their popular ribaldry on themselves, with such replies as “Pap with a hatchet, or a fig for my godson; or, crack me this nut. To be sold, at the sign of the Crab-tree Cudgel, in Thwack-coat lane.”[81] Not less biting was his “Almond for a Parrot, or an Alms for Martin.” Nash first silenced Martin Mar-prelate, and the government afterwards hanged him; Nash might be vain of the greater honour. A ridiculer then is the best champion to meet another ridiculer; their scurrilities magically undo each other.

But the abuse of ridicule is not one of the least calamities of literature, when it withers genius, and gibbets whom it ought to enshrine. Never let us forget that Socrates before his judges asserted that “his persecution originated in the licensed raillery of Aristophanes, which had so unduly influenced the popular mind during several years!” And thus a fictitious Socrates, not the great moralist, was condemned. Armed with the most licentious ridicule, the Aretine of our own country and times has proved that its chief magistrate was not protected by the shield of domestic and public virtues; a false and distorted image of an intelligent monarch could cozen the gross many, and aid the purposes of the subtle few.

There is a plague-spot in ridicule, and the man who 117 is touched with it can be sent forth as the jest of his country.

The literary reign of Elizabeth, so fertile in every kind of genius, exhibits a remarkable instance, in the controversy between the witty Tom Nash and the learned Gabriel Harvey. It will illustrate the nature of the fictions of ridicule, expose the materials of which its shafts are composed, and the secret arts by which ridicule can level a character which seems to be placed above it.

Gabriel Harvey was an author of considerable rank, but with two learned brothers, as Wood tells us, “had the ill luck to fall into the hands of that noted and restless buffoon, Tom Nash.”

Harvey is not unknown to the lover of poetry, from his connexion with Spenser, who loved and revered him. He is the Hobynol whose poem is prefixed to the “Faery Queen,” who introduced Spenser to Sir Philip Sidney: and, besides his intimacy with the literary characters of his times, he was a Doctor of Laws, an erudite scholar, and distinguished as a poet. Such a man could hardly be contemptible; and yet, when some little peculiarities become aggravated, and his works are touched by the caustic of the most adroit banterer of that age of wit, no character has descended to us with such grotesque deformity, exhibited in so ludicrous an attitude.

Harvey was a pedant, but pedantry was part of the erudition of an age when our national literature was passing from its infancy; he introduced hexameter verses into our language, and pompously laid claim to an invention which, designed for the reformation of English verse, was practised till it was found sufficiently ridiculous. His style was infected with his pedantic taste; and the hard outline of his satirical humour betrays the scholastic cynic, not the airy and fluent wit. He had, perhaps, the foibles of a man who was clearing himself from obscurity; he prided himself on his family alliances, while he fastidiously looked askance on the trade of his father—a rope-manufacturer.

He was somewhat rich in his apparel, according to the rank in society he held; and, hungering after the notice of his friends, they fed him on soft sonnet and relishing dedication, till Harvey ventured to publish a collection of panegyrics on himself—and thus gravely stepped into a niche erected to Vanity. At length he and his two brothers—one a divine and the other a physician—became students of astronomy; 118 then an astronomer usually ended in an almanac-maker, and above all, in an astrologer—an avocation which tempted a man to become a prophet. Their “sharp and learned judgment on earthquakes” drove the people out of their senses (says Wood); but when nothing happened of their predictions, the brothers received a severe castigation from those great enemies of prophets, the wits. The buffoon, Tarleton, celebrated for his extempore humour, jested on them at the theatre;[82] Elderton, a drunken ballad-maker, “consumed his ale-crammed nose to nothing in bear-bating them with bundles of ballads.”[83] One on the earthquake commenced with “Quake! quake! quake!” They made the people laugh at their false terrors, or, as Nash humorously describes their fanciful panic, “when they sweated and were not a haire the worse.” Thus were the three learned brothers beset by all the town-wits; Gabriel had the hardihood, with all undue gravity, to charge pell-mell among the whole knighthood of drollery; a circumstance probably alluded to by Spenser, in a sonnet addressed to Harvey—

 “Harvey, the happy above happier men,
I read; that sitting like a looker-on
Of this worlde’s stage, dost note with critique pen
The sharp dislikes of each condition;
And, as one carelesse of suspition,
Ne fawnest for the favour of the great;
Ne fearest foolish reprehension
Of faulty men, which daunger to thee threat
But freely doest of what thee list, entreat,
Like a great lord of peerlesse liberty.—”

The “foolish reprehension of faulty men, threatening Harvey with danger,” describes that gregarious herd of town-wits in the age of Elizabeth—Kit Marlow, Robert Greene, Dekker, Nash, &c.—men of no moral principle, of high passions, and the most pregnant Lucianic wits who ever 119 flourished at one period.[84] Unfortunately for the learned Harvey, his “critique pen,” which is strange in so polished a mind and so curious a student, indulged a sharpness of invective which would have been peculiar to himself, had his adversary, Nash, not quite outdone him. Their pamphlets foamed against each other, till Nash, in his vehement invective, involved the whole generation of the Harveys, made one brother more ridiculous than the other, and even attainted the fair name of Gabriel’s respectable sister. Gabriel, indeed, after the death of Robert Greene, the crony of Nash, sitting like a vampyre on his grave, sucked blood from his corpse, in a memorable narrative of the debaucheries and miseries of this town-wit. I throw into the note the most awful satirical address I ever read.[85] It became necessary to dry up the 120 floodgates of these rival ink-horns, by an order of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The order is a remarkable fragment of our literary history, and is thus expressed:—“That all Nashe’s bookes and Dr. Harvey’s bookes be taken wheresoever they may be found, and that none of the said bookes be ever printed hereafter.”

This extraordinary circumstance accounts for the excessive rarity of Harvey’s “Foure Letters, 1592,” and that literary scourge of Nash’s, “Have with you to Saffron-Walden (Harvey’s residence), or Gabriel Harvey’s Hunt is vp, 1596;” pamphlets now as costly as if they consisted of leaves of gold.[87]

Nash, who, in his other works, writes in a style as flowing as Addison’s, with hardly an obsolete vestige, has rather injured this literary invective by the evident burlesque he affects of Harvey’s pedantic idiom; and for this Mr. Malone has hastily censured him, without recollecting the aim of this modern Lucian.[88] The delicacy of irony; the sous-entendu, that subtlety of indicating what is not told; all that poignant satire, which is the keener for its polish, were 121 not practised by our first vehement satirists; but a bantering masculine humour, a style stamped in the heat of fancy, with all the life-touches of strong individuality, characterise these licentious wits. They wrote then as the old fabliers told their tales, naming everything by its name; our refinement cannot approve, but it cannot diminish their real nature, and among our elaborate graces, their naïveté must be still wanting.

In this literary satire Nash has interwoven a kind of ludicrous biography of Harvey; and seems to have anticipated the character of Martinus Scriblerus. I leave the grosser parts of this invective untouched; for my business is not with slander, but with ridicule.

Nash opens as a skilful lampooner; he knew well that ridicule, without the appearance of truth, was letting fly an arrow upwards, touching no one. Nash accounts for his protracted silence by adroitly declaring that he had taken these two or three years to get perfect intelligence of Harvey’s “Life and conversation; one true point whereof well sat downe will more excruciate him than knocking him about the ears with his own style in a hundred sheets of paper.”

And with great humour says—

“As long as it is since he writ against me, so long have I given him a lease of his life, and he hath only held it by my mercy; and now let him thank his friends for this heavy load of disgrace I lay upon him, since I do it but to show my sufficiency; and they urging what a triumph he had over me, hath made me ransack my standish more than I would.”

In the history of such a literary hero as Gabriel, the birth has ever been attended by portents. Gabriel’s mother “dreamt a dream,” that she was delivered “of an immense elder gun that can shoot nothing but pellets of chewed paper; and thought, instead of a boy, she was brought to bed of one of those kistrell birds called a wind-sucker.” At the moment of his birth came into the world “a calf with a double tongue, and eares longer than any ass’s, with his feet turned backwards.” Facetious analogies of Gabriel’s literary genius!

He then paints to the life the grotesque portrait of Harvey; so that the man himself stands alive before us. “He was of an adust swarth choleric dye, like restie bacon, or a dried scate-fish; his skin riddled and crumpled like a piece 122 of burnt parchment, with channels and creases in his face, and wrinkles and frets of old age.” Nash dexterously attributes this premature old age to his own talents; exulting humorously—

“I have brought him low, and shrewdly broken him; look on his head, and you shall find a gray haire for euerie line I have writ against him; and you shall haue all his beard white too by the time he hath read ouer this booke.”

To give a finishing to the portrait, and to reach the climax of personal contempt, he paints the sordid misery in which he lived at Saffron-Walden:—“Enduring more hardness than a camell, who will liue four dayes without water, and feedes on nothing but thistles and wormwood, as he feeds on his estate on trotters, sheep porknells, and buttered rootes, in an hexameter meditation.”

In his Venetian velvet and pantofles of pride, we are told—

“He looks, indeed, like a case of tooth-pickes, or a lute-pin stuck in a suit of apparell. An Vsher of a dancing-schoole, he is such a basia de vmbra de vmbra de los pedes; a kisser of the shadow of your feetes shadow he is!”

This is, doubtless, a portrait resembling the original, with its Cervantic touches; Nash would not have risked what the eyes of his readers would instantly have proved to be fictitious; and, in fact, though the Grangerites know of no portrait of Gabriel Harvey, they will find a woodcut of him by the side of this description; it is, indeed, in a most pitiable attitude, expressing that gripe of criticism which seized on Gabriel “upon the news of the going in hand of my booke.”

The ponderosity and prolixity of Gabriel’s “period of a mile,” are described with a facetious extravagance, which may be given as a specimen of the eloquence of ridicule. Harvey entitled his various pamphlets “Letters.”

“More letters yet from the doctor? Out upon it, here’s a packet of epistling, as bigge as a packe of woollen cloth, or a stack of salt fish. Carrier, didst thou bring it by wayne, or by horsebacke? By wayne, sir, and it hath crackt me three axle-trees.—Heavie newes! Take them again! I will never open them.—My cart (quoth he, deep-sighing,) hath cryde creake under them fortie times euerie furlong; wherefore if you be a good man rather make mud-walls with them, mend highways, or damme up quagmires with them.


“When I came to unrip and unbumbast[89] this Gargantuan bag pudding, and found nothing in it but dogs tripes, swines livers, oxe galls, and sheepes guts, I was in a bitterer chafe than anie cooke at a long sermon, when his meat burnes.

“O ’tis an vnsconscionable vast gor-bellied volume, bigger bulkt than a Dutch hoy, and more cumbersome than a payre of Switzer’s galeaze breeches.”[90]

And in the same ludicrous style he writes—

“One epistle thereof to John Wolfe (Harvey’s printer) I took and weighed in an ironmonger’s scale, and it counter poyseth a cade[91] of herrings with three Holland cheeses. It was rumoured about the Court that the guard meant to trie masteries with it before the Queene, and instead of throwing the sledge, or the hammer, to hurle it foorth at the armes end for a wager.

“Sixe and thirtie sheets it comprehendeth, which with him is but sixe and thirtie full points (periods); for he makes no more difference ’twixt a sheet of paper and a full pointe, than there is ’twixt two black puddings for a pennie, and a pennie for a pair of black puddings. Yet these are but the shortest prouerbes of his wit, for he never bids a man good morrow, but he makes a speech as long as a proclamation, nor drinkes to anie, but he reads a lecture of three howers long, de Arte bibendi. O ’tis a precious apothegmatical pedant.”

It was the foible of Harvey to wish to conceal the humble avocation of his father: this forms a perpetual source of the bitterness or the pleasantry of Nash, who, indeed, calls his pamphlet “a full answer to the eldest son of the halter maker,” which, he says, “is death to Gabriel to remember; wherefore from time to time he doth nothing but turmoile his thoughts how to invent new pedigrees, and what great nobleman’s bastard he was likely to be, not whose sonne he is reputed to be. Yet he would not have a shoo to put on 124 his foote if his father had not traffiqued with the hangman.—Harvey nor his brothers cannot bear to be called the sonnes of a rope-maker, which, by his private confession to some of my friends, was the only thing that most set him afire against me. Turne over his two bookes he hath published against me, wherein he hath clapt paper God’s plentie, if that could press a man to death, and see if, in the waye of answer, or otherwise, he once mentioned the word rope-maker, or come within forty foot of it; except in one place of his first booke, where he nameth it not neither, but goes thus cleanly to worke:—‘and may not a good sonne have a reprobate for his father?’ a periphrase of a rope-maker, which, if I should shryue myself, I never heard before.” According to Nash, Gabriel took his oath before a justice, that his father was an honest man, and kept his sons at the Universities a long time. “I confirmed it, and added, Ay! which is more, three proud sonnes, that when they met the hangman, their father’s best customer, would not put off their hats to him—”

Such repeated raillery on this foible of Harvey touched him more to the quick, and more raised the public laugh, than any other point of attack; for it was merited. Another foible was, perhaps, the finical richness of Harvey’s dress, adopting the Italian fashions on his return from Italy, “when he made no bones of taking the wall of Sir Philip Sidney, in his black Venetian velvet.”[92] On this the fertile invention of Nash raises a scandalous anecdote concerning Gabriel’s wardrobe; “a tale of his hobby-horse reuelling and domineering at Audley-end, when the Queen was there; to which place Gabriel came ruffling it out, hufty tufty, in his suit of veluet—” which he had “untrussed, and pelted the outside from the lining of an old velvet saddle he had borrowed!” “The rotten mould of that worm-eaten relique, he means, 125 when he dies, to hang over his tomb for a monument.”[93] Harvey was proud of his refined skill in “Tuscan authors,” and too fond of their worse conceits. Nash alludes to his travels in Italy, “to fetch him twopenny worth of Tuscanism, quite renouncing his natural English accents and gestures, wrested himself wholly to the Italian punctilios, painting himself like a courtezan, till the Queen declared, ‘he looked something like an Italian!’ At which he roused his plumes, pricked his ears, and run away with the bridle betwixt his teeth.” These were malicious tales, to make his adversary contemptible, whenever the merry wits at court were willing to sharpen themselves on him.

One of the most difficult points of attack was to break through that bastion of sonnets and panegyrics with which Harvey had fortified himself by the aid of his friends, against the assaults of Nash. Harvey had been commended by the learned and the ingenious. Our Lucian, with his usual adroitness, since he could not deny Harvey’s intimacy with Spenser and Sidney, gets rid of their suffrages by this malicious sarcasm: “It is a miserable thing for a man to be said to have had friends, and now to have neer a one left!” As for the others, whom Harvey calls “his gentle and liberall friends,” Nash boldly caricatures the grotesque crew, as “tender itchie brained infants, that cared not what they did, so they might come in print; worthless whippets, and jack-straws, who meeter it in his commendation, whom he would compare with the highest.” The works of these young writers he describes by an image exquisitely ludicrous and satirical:—

“These mushrumpes, who pester the world with their pamphlets, are like those barbarous people in the hot countries, who, when they have bread to make, doe no more than clap the dowe upon a post on the outside of their houses, and there leave it to the sun to bake; so their indigested conceipts, far rawer than anie dowe, at all adventures upon the post they clap, pluck them off who will, and think they have made as good a batch of poetrie as may be.”

Of Harvey’s list of friends he observes:—


“To a bead-roll of learned men and lords, he appeals, whether he be an asse or no?”

Harvey had said, “Thomas Nash, from the top of his wit looking down upon simple creatures, calleth Gabriel Harvey a dunce, a foole, an ideot, a dolt, a goose cap, an asse, and so forth; for some of the residue is not to be spoken but with his owne mannerly mouth; but he should have shewed particularlie which wordes in my letters were the wordes of a dunce; which sentences the sentences of a foole; which arguments the arguments of an ideot; which opinions the opinions of a dolt; which judgments the judgments of a goose-cap; which conclusions the conclusions of an asse.”[94]

Thus Harvey reasons, till he becomes unreasonable; one would have imagined that the literary satires of our English Lucian had been voluminous enough, without the mathematical demonstration. The banterers seem to have put poor Harvey nearly out of his wits; he and his friends felt their blows too profoundly; they were much too thin-skinned, and the solemn air of Harvey in his graver moments at their menaces is extremely ludicrous. They frequently called him Gabrielissime Gabriel, which quintessence of himself seems to have mightily affected him. They threatened to confute his letters till eternity—which seems to have put him in despair. The following passage, descriptive of Gabriel’s distresses, may excite a smile.

“This grand confuter of my letters says, ‘Gabriel, if there be any wit or industrie in thee, now I will dare it to the vttermost; write of what thou wilt, in what language thou wilt, and I will confute it, and answere it. Take Truth’s part, and I will proouve truth to be no truth, marching ovt of thy dung-voiding mouth.’ He will never leave me as long as he is able to lift a pen, ad infinitum; if I reply, he has a rejoinder; and for my brief triplication, he is prouided with a quadruplication, and so he mangles my sentences, hacks my arguments, wrenches my words, chops and changes my phrases, even to the disjoyning and dislocation of my whole meaning.”

Poor Harvey! he knew not that there was nothing real in ridicule, no end to its merry malice!

Harvey’s taste for hexameter verses, which he so unnaturally forced into our language, is admirably ridiculed. 127 Harvey had shown his taste for these metres by a variety of poems, to whose subjects Nash thus sarcastically alludes:—

“It had grown with him into such a dictionary custom, that no may-pole in the street, no wether-cocke on anie church-steeple, no arbour, no lawrell, no yewe-tree, he would ouerskip, without hayling in this manner. After supper, if he chancst to play at cards with a queen of harts in his hands, he would run upon men’s and women’s hearts all the night.”

And he happily introduces here one of the miserable hexameter conceits of Harvey—

Stout hart and sweet hart, yet stoutest hart to be stooped.

Harvey’s “Encomium Lauri” thus ridiculously commences,

What might I call this tree? A lawrell? O bonny lawrell,
Needes to thy bowes will I bow this knee, and vayle my bonetto;

which Nash most happily burlesques by describing Harvey under a yew-tree at Trinity-hall, composing verses on the weathercock of Allhallows in Cambridge:—

O thou wether-cocke that stands on the top of Allhallows,
Come thy wales down, if thou darst, for thy crowne, and take the wall on us.

“The hexameter verse (says Nash) I graunt to be a gentleman of an auncient house (so is many an English beggar), yet this clyme of our’s hee cannot thrive in; our speech is too craggy for him to set his plough in; hee goes twitching and hopping in our language, like a man running vpon quagmires, vp the hill in one syllable and down the dale in another, retaining no part of that stately smooth gate which he vaunts himself with amongst the Greeks and Latins.”

The most humorous part in this Scribleriad, is a ludicrous narrative of Harvey’s expedition to the metropolis, for the sole purpose of writing his “Pierce Supererogation,” pitted against Nash’s “Pierce’s Pennilesse.” The facetious Nash describes the torpor and pertinacity of his genius, by telling us he had kept Harvey at work—

“For seaven and thirtie weekes space while he lay at his printer’s, Wolfe, never stirring out of doors, or being churched all that while—and that in the deadest season that might bee, hee lying in the ragingest furie of the last plague where there dyde above 1600 a weeke in London, ink-squittring and saracenically printing against mee. Three quarters of a year 128 thus immured hee remained, with his spirits yearning empassionment, and agonised fury, thirst of revenge, neglecting soul and bodies health to compasse it—sweating and dealing upon it most intentively.”[95]

The narrative proceeds with the many perils which Harvey’s printer encountered, by expense of diet, and printing for this bright genius and his friends, whose works “would rust and iron-spot paper to have their names breathed over it;” and that Wolfe designed “to get a privilege betimes, forbidding of all others to sell waste-paper but himselfe.” The climax of the narrative, after many misfortunes, ends with Harvey being arrested by the printer, and confined to Newgate, where his sword is taken from him, to his perpetual disgrace. So much did Gabriel endure for having written a book against Tom Nash!

But Harvey might deny some of these ludicrous facts.—Will he deny? cries Nash—and here he has woven every tale the most watchful malice could collect, varnished for their full effect. Then he adds,

“You see I have brought the doctor out of request at court; and it shall cost me a fall, but I will get him howted out of the Vniuersitie too, ere I giue him ouer.” He tells us Harvey was brought on the stage at Trinity-college, in “the exquisite comedie of Pedantius,” where, under “the finical fine schoolmaster, the just manner of his phrase, they stufft his mouth with; and the whole buffianisme throughout his bookes, they bolstered out his part with—euen to the carrying of his gowne, his nice gate in his pantofles, or the affected accent of his speech—Let him deny that there was a shewe made at Clarehall of him and his brothers, called Tarrarantantara turba tumultuosa Trigonum Tri-Harveyorum Tri-harmonia; and another shewe of the little minnow his brother, at Peter-house, called Duns furens, Dick Harvey in a frensie.” The sequel is thus told:—“Whereupon Dick came and broke the college glass windows, and Dr. Perne caused him to be set in the stockes till the shewe was ended.”

This “Duns furens, Dick Harvey in a frensie,” was not 129 only the brother of one who ranked high in society and literature, but himself a learned professor. Nash brings him down to “Pigmey Dick, that lookes like a pound of goldsmith’s candles, who had like to commit folly last year with a milk-maid, as a friend of his very soberly informed me. Little and little-wittied Dick, that hath vowed to live and die in defence of Brutus and his Trojans.”[96] An Herculean feat of this “Duns furens,” Nash tells us, was his setting Aristotle with his heels upwards on the school-gates at Cambridge, and putting ass’s ears on his head, which Tom here records in perpetuam rei memoriam. But Wood, our grave and keen literary antiquary, observes—

“To let pass other matters these vain men (the wits) report of Richard Harvey, his works show him quite another person than what they make him to be.”

Nash then forms a ludicrous contrast between “witless Gabriel and ruffling Richard.” The astronomer Richard was continually baiting the great bear in the firmament, and in his lectures set up atheistical questions, which Nash maliciously adds, “as I am afraid the earth would swallow me if I should but rehearse.” And at his close, Nash bitterly regrets he has no more room; “else I should make Gabriel a fugitive out of England, being the rauenousest slouen that ever lapt porridge in noblemen’s houses, where he has had already, out of two, his mittimus of Ye may be gone! for he was a sower of seditious paradoxes amongst kitchen-boys.” Nash seems to have considered himself as terrible as an Archilochus, whose satires were so fatal as to induce the satirised, after having read them, to hang themselves.

How ill poor Harvey passed through these wit-duels, and how profoundly the wounds inflicted on him and his brothers were felt, appears by his own confessions. In his “Foure Letters,” after some curious observations on invectives and satires, from those of Archilochus, Lucian, and Aretine, to Skelton and Scoggin, and “the whole venomous and viperous brood of old and new raylers,” he proceeds to blame even his beloved friend the gentle Spenser, for the severity of his “Mother Hubbard’s Tale,” a satire on the court. “I must needes say, Mother Hubbard in heat of choller, forgetting the 130 pure sanguine of her Sweete Feary Queene, artfully ouershott her malcontent-selfe; as elsewhere I have specified at large, with the good leaue of vnspotted friendship.—Sallust and Clodius learned of Tully to frame artificiall declamations and patheticall invectives against Tully himselfe; if Mother Hubbard, in the vaine of Chawcer, happen to tel one canicular tale, father Elderton and his son Greene, in the vaine of Skelton or Scoggin, will counterfeit an hundred dogged fables, libles, slaunders, lies, for the whetstone. But many will sooner lose their liues than the least jott of their reputation. What mortal feudes, what cruel bloodshed, what terrible slaughterdome have been committed for the point of honour and some few courtly ceremonies.”

The incidents so plentifully narrated in this Lucianic biography, the very nature of this species of satire throws into doubt; yet they still seem shadowed out from some truths; but the truths who can unravel from the fictions? And thus a narrative is consigned to posterity which involves illustrious characters in an inextricable network of calumny and genius.

Writers of this class alienate themselves from human kind, they break the golden bond which holds them to society; and they live among us like a polished banditti. In these copious extracts, I have not noticed the more criminal insinuations against the Harveys; I have left the grosser slanders untouched. My object has been only to trace the effects of ridicule, and to detect its artifices, by which the most dignified characters may be deeply injured at the pleasure of a Ridiculer. The wild mirth of ridicule, aggravating and taunting real imperfections, and fastening imaginary ones on the victim in idle sport or ill-humour, strikes at the most brittle thing in the world, a man’s good reputation, for delicate matters which are not under the protection of the law, but in which so much of personal happiness is concerned.



In the peaceful walks of literature we are startled at discovering genius with the mind, and, if we conceive the instrument it guides to be a stiletto, with the hand of an assassin—irascible, vindictive, armed with indiscriminate satire, never 131 pardoning the merit of rival genius, but fastening on it throughout life, till, in the moral retribution of human nature, these very passions, by their ungratified cravings, have tended to annihilate the being who fostered them. These passions among literary men are with none more inextinguishable than among provincial writers.—Their bad feelings are concentrated by their local contraction. The proximity of men of genius seems to produce a familiarity which excites hatred or contempt; while he who is afflicted with disordered passions imagines that he is urging his own claims to genius by denying them to their possessor. A whole life passed in harassing the industry or the genius which he has not equalled; and instead of running the open career as a competitor, only skulking as an assassin by their side, is presented in the object now before us.

Dr. Gilbert Stuart seems early in life to have devoted himself to literature; but his habits were irregular, and his passions fierce. The celebrity of Robertson, Blair, and Henry, with other Scottish brothers, diseased his mind with a most envious rancour. He confined all his literary efforts to the pitiable motive of destroying theirs; he was prompted to every one of his historical works by the mere desire of discrediting some work of Robertson; and his numerous critical labours were all directed to annihilate the genius of his country. How he converted his life into its own scourge, how wasted talents he might have cultivated into perfection, lost every trace of humanity, and finally perished, devoured by his own fiend-like passions,—shall be illustrated by the following narrative, collected from a correspondence now lying before me, which the author carried on with his publisher in London. I shall copy out at some length the hopes and disappointments of the literary adventurer—the colours are not mine; I am dipping my pencil in the palette of the artist himself.

In June, 1773, was projected in the Scottish capital “The Edinburgh Magazine and Review.” Stuart’s letters breathe the spirit of rapturous confidence. He had combined the sedulous attention of the intelligent Smellie, who was to be the printer, with some very honourable critics; Professor Baron, Dr. Blacklock, and Professor Richardson; and the first numbers were executed with more talent than periodical publications had then exhibited. But the hardiness of Stuart’s opinions, his personal attacks, and the acrimony of his literary 132 libels, presented a new feature in Scottish literature, of such ugliness and horror, that every honourable man soon averted his face from this boutefeu.

He designed to ornament his first number with—

“A print of my Lord Monboddo in his quadruped form. I must, therefore, most earnestly beg that you will purchase for me a copy of it in some of the Macaroni print shops. It is not to be procured at Edinburgh. They are afraid to vend it here. We are to take it on the footing of a figure of an animal, not yet described; and are to give a grave, yet satirical account of it, in the manner of Buffon. It would not be proper to allude to his lordship but in a very distant manner.”

It was not, however, ventured on; and the nondescript animal was still confined to the windows of “the Macaroni print shops.” It was, however, the bloom of the author’s fancy, and promised all the mellow fruits it afterwards produced.

In September this ardour did not abate:—

“The proposals are issued; the subscriptions in the booksellers’ shops astonish; correspondents flock in; and, what will surprise you, the timid proprietors of the ‘Scots’ Magazine’ have come to the resolution of dropping their work. You stare at all this, and so do I too.”

Thus he flatters himself he is to annihilate his rival, without even striking the first blow. The appearance of his first number is to be the moment when their last is to come forth. Authors, like the discoverers of mines, are the most sanguine creatures in the world: Gilbert Stuart afterwards flattered himself Dr. Henry was lying at the point of death from the scalping of his tomahawk pen; but of this anon.

On the publication of the first number, in November, 1773, all is exultation; and an account is facetiously expected that “a thousand copies had emigrated from the Row and Fleet-street.”

There is a serious composure in the letter of December, which seems to be occasioned by the tempered answer of his London correspondent. The work was more suited to the meridian of Edinburgh; and from causes sufficiently obvious, its personality and causticity. Stuart, however, assures his friend that “the second number you will find better than the first, and the third better than the second.”

The next letter is dated March 4, 1774, in which I find our author still in good spirits:—


“The Magazine rises, and promises much, in this quarter. Our artillery has silenced all opposition. The rogues of the ‘uplifted hands’ decline the combat.” These rogues are the clergy, and some others, who had “uplifted hands” from the vituperative nature of their adversary; for he tells us that, “now the clergy are silent, the town-council have had the presumption to oppose us; and have threatened Creech (the publisher in Edinburgh) with the terror of making him a constable for his insolence. A pamphlet on the abuses of Heriot’s Hospital, including a direct proof of perjury in the provost, was the punishment inflicted in return. And new papers are forging to chastise them, in regard to the poors’ rate, which is again started; the improper choice of professors; and violent stretches of the impost. The liberty of the press, in its fullest extent, is to be employed against them.”

Such is the language of reform, and the spirit of a reformist! A little private malignity thus ferments a good deal of public spirit; but patriotism must be independent to be pure. If the “Edinburgh Review” continues to succeed in its sale, as Stuart fancies, Edinburgh itself may be in some danger. His perfect contempt of his contemporaries is amusing:—

“Monboddo’s second volume is published, and, with Kaimes, will appear in our next; the former is a childish performance; the latter rather better. We are to treat them with a good deal of freedom. I observe an amazing falling off in the English Reviews. We beat them hollow. I fancy they have no assistance but from the Dissenters,—a dull body of men. The Monthly will not easily recover the death of Hawkesworth; and I suspect that Langhorne has forsaken them; for I see no longer his pen.”

We are now hastening to the sudden and the moral catastrophe of our tale. The thousand copies which had emigrated to London remained there, little disturbed by public inquiry; and in Scotland, the personal animosity against almost every literary character there, which had inflamed the sale, became naturally the latent cause of its extinction; for its life was but a feverish existence, and its florid complexion carried with it the seeds of its dissolution. Stuart at length quarrelled with his coadjutor, Smellie, for altering his reviews. Smellie’s prudential dexterity was such, that, in an article designed to level Lord Kaimes with Lord Monboddo, the whole libel was completely metamorphosed into a panegyric. They were involved in a lawsuit about “a blasphemous 134 paper.” And now the enraged Zoilus complains of “his hours of peevishness and dissatisfaction.” He acknowledges that “a circumstance had happened which had broke his peace and ease altogether for some weeks.” And now he resolves that this great work shall quietly sink into a mere compilation from the London periodical works. Such, then, is the progress of malignant genius! The author, like him who invented the brazen bull of Phalaris, is writhing in that machine of tortures he had contrived for others.

We now come to a very remarkable passage: it is the frenzied language of disappointed wickedness.

17 June, 1774.

“It is an infinite disappointment to me that the Magazine does not grow in London; I thought the soil had been richer. But it is my constant fate to be disappointed in everything I attempt; I do not think I ever had a wish that was gratified; and never dreaded an event that did not come. With this felicity of fate, I wonder how the devil I could turn projector. I am now sorry that I left London; and the moment that I have money enough to carry me back to it, I shall set off. I mortally detest and abhor this place, and everybody in it. Never was there a city where there was so much pretension to knowledge, and that had so little of it. The solemn foppery, and the gross stupidity of the Scottish literati, are perfectly insupportable. I shall drop my idea of a Scots newspaper. Nothing will do in this country that has common sense in it; only cant, hypocrisy, and superstition will flourish here. A curse on the country, and all the men, women, and children of it!

Again.—“The publication is too good for the country. There are very few men of taste or erudition on this side of the Tweed. Yet every idiot one meets with lays claim to both. Yet the success of the Magazine is in reality greater than we could expect, considering that we have every clergyman in the kingdom to oppose it, and that the magistracy of the place are every moment threatening its destruction.”

And, therefore, this recreant Scot anathematizes the Scottish people for not applauding blasphemy, calumny, and every species of literary criminality! Such are the monstrous passions that swell out the poisonous breast of genius, deprived of every moral restraint; and such was the demoniac irritability which prompted a wish in Collot d’Herbois to set fire 135 to the four quarters of the city of Lyons; while, in his “tender mercies,” the kennels of the streets were running with the blood of its inhabitants—remembering still that the Lyonese had, when he was a miserable actor, hissed him off the stage!

Stuart curses his country, and retreats to London. Fallen, but not abject; repulsed, but not altered; degraded, but still haughty. No change of place could operate any in his heart. He was born in literary crime, and he perished in it. It was now “The English Review” was instituted, with his idol Whitaker, the historian of Manchester, and others. He says, “To Whitaker he assigns the palm of history in preference to Hume and Robertson.” I have heard that he considered himself higher than Whitaker, and ranked himself with Montesquieu. He negotiated for Whitaker and himself a Doctor of Laws’ degree; and they were now in the titular possession of all the fame which a dozen pieces could bestow! In “The English Review” broke forth all the genius of Stuart in an unnatural warfare of Scotchmen in London against Scotchmen at Edinburgh. “The bitter herbs,” which seasoned it against Blair, Robertson, Gibbon, and the ablest authors of the age, at first provoked the public appetite, which afterwards indignantly rejected the palatable garbage.

But to proceed with our Literary Conspiracy, which was conducted by Stuart with a pertinacity of invention perhaps not to be paralleled in literary history. That the peace of mind of such an industrious author as Dr. Henry was for a considerable time destroyed; that the sale of a work on which Henry had expended much of his fortune and his life was stopped; and that, when covered with obloquy and ridicule, in despair he left Edinburgh for London, still encountering the same hostility; that all this was the work of the same hand perhaps was never even known to its victim. The multiplied forms of this Proteus of the Malevoli were still but one devil; fire or water, or a bull or a lion; still it was the same Proteus, the same Stuart.

From the correspondence before me I am enabled to collect the commencement and the end of this literary conspiracy, with all its intermediate links. It thus commences:—

25 Nov. 1773.

“We have been attacked from different quarters, and Dr. Henry in particular has given a long and a dull defence of his 136 sermon. I have replied to it with a degree of spirit altogether unknown in this country. The reverend historian was perfectly astonished, and has actually invited the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge to arm in his cause! I am about to be persecuted by the whole clergy, and I am about to persecute them in my turn. They are hot and zealous; I am cool and dispassionate, like a determined sceptic; since I have entered the lists, I must fight; I must gain the victory, or perish like a man.”

13 Dec. 1773.

“David Hume wants to review Henry; but that task is so precious that I will undertake it myself. Moses, were he to ask it as a favour, should not have it; yea, not even the man after God’s own heart.”

4 March, 1774.

“This month Henry is utterly demolished; his sale is stopped, many of his copies are returned; and his old friends have forsaken him; pray, in what state is he in London? Henry has delayed his London journey; you cannot easily conceive how exceedingly he is humbled.[97]

“I wish I could transport myself to London to review him for the Monthly. A fire there, and in the Critical, would perfectly annihilate him. Could you do nothing in the latter? To the former I suppose David Hume has transcribed the criticism he intended for us. It is precious, and would divert you. I keep a proof of it in my cabinet for the amusement of friends. This great philosopher begins to dote.”[98]


Stuart prepares to assail Henry, on his arrival in London, from various quarters—to lower the value of his history in the estimation of the purchasers.

21 March, 1774.

“To-morrow morning Henry sets off for London, with immense hopes of selling his history. I wish he had delayed till our last review of him had reached your city. But I really suppose that he has little probability of getting any gratuity. The trade are too sharp to give precious gold for perfect nonsense. I wish sincerely that I could enter Holborn the same hour with him. He should have a repeated fire to combat with. I entreat that you may be so kind as to let him feel some of your thunder. I shall never forget the favour. If Whitaker is in London, he could give a blow. Paterson will give him a knock. Strike by all means. The wretch will tremble, grow pale, and return with a consciousness of his debility. I entreat I may hear from you a day or two after you have seen him. He will complain grievously of me to Strahan and Rose. I shall send you a paper about him—an advertisement from Parnassus, in the manner of Boccalini.”

March, 1774.

“Dr. Henry has by this time reached you. I think you ought to pay your respects to him in the Morning Chronicle. If you would only transcribe his jests, it would make him perfectly ridiculous. See, for example, what he says of St. Dunstan. A word to the wise.”

March 27, 1774.

“I have a thousand thanks to give you for your insertion of the paper in the London Chronicle, and for the part you propose to act in regard to Henry. I could wish that you knew for certain his being in London before you strike the first blow. An inquiry at Cadell’s will give this. When you have an enemy to attack, I shall in return give my best assistance, and aim at him a mortal blow, and rush forward to his overthrow, though the flames of hell should start up to oppose me.

“It pleases me, beyond what I can express, that Whitaker has an equal contempt for Henry. The idiot threatened, when he left Edinburgh, that he would find a method to manage the Reviews, and that he would oppose their panegyric to our censure. Hume has behaved ill in the affair, 138 and I am preparing to chastise him. You may expect a series of papers in the Magazine, pointing out a multitude of his errors, and ascertaining his ignorance of English history. It was too much for my temper to be assailed both by infidels and believers. My pride could not submit to it. I shall act in my defence with a spirit which it seems they have not expected.”

11 April, 1774.

“I received with infinite pleasure the annunciation of the great man into the capital. It is forcible and excellent; and you have my best thanks for it. You improve amazingly. The poor creature will be stupified with amazement. Inclosed is a paper for him. Boccalini will follow. I shall fall upon a method to let David know Henry’s transaction about his review. It is mean to the last degree. But what could one expect from the most ignorant and the most contemptible man alive? Do you ever see Macfarlane? He owes me a favour for his history of George III., and would give a fire for the packet. The idiot is to be Moderator for the ensuing Assembly. It shall not, however, be without opposition.

“Would the paragraph about him from the inclosed leaf of the ‘Edinburgh Review’ be any disgrace to the Morning Chronicle?”

20th May, 1774.

“Boccalini I thought of transmitting, when the reverend historian, for whose use it was intended, made his appearance at Edinburgh. But it will not be lost. He shall most certainly see it. David’s critique was most acceptable. It is a curious specimen in one view of insolent vanity, and in another of contemptible meanness. The old historian begins to dote, and the new one was never out of dotage.”

3 April, 1775.

“I see every day that what is written to a man’s disparagement is never forgot nor forgiven. Poor Henry is on the point of death, and his friends declare that I have killed him. I received the information as a compliment, and begged they would not do me so much honour.”

But Henry and his history long survived Stuart and his critiques; and Robertson, Blair, and Kaimes, with others he assailed, have all taken their due ranks in public esteem. What niche does Stuart occupy? His historical works possess 139 the show, without the solidity, of research; hardy paradoxes, and an artificial style of momentary brilliancy, are none of the lasting materials of history. This shadow of “Montesquieu,” for he conceived him only to be his fit rival, derived the last consolations of life from an obscure corner of a Burton ale-house—there, in rival potations, with two or three other disappointed authors, they regaled themselves on ale they could not always pay for, and recorded their own literary celebrity, which had never taken place. Some time before his death, his asperity was almost softened by melancholy; with a broken spirit, he reviewed himself; a victim to that unrighteous ambition which sought to build up its greatness with the ruins of his fellow-countrymen; prematurely wasting talents which might have been directed to literary eminence. And Gilbert Stuart died as he had lived, a victim to intemperance, physical and moral!



We have witnessed the malignant influence of illiberal criticism, not only on literary men, but over literature itself, since it is the actual cause of suppressing works which lie neglected, though completed by their authors. The arts of literary condemnation, as they may be practised by men of wit and arrogance, are well known; and it is much less difficult than it is criminal, to scare the modest man of learning, and to rack the man of genius, in that bright vision of authorship sometimes indulged in the calm of their studies—a generous emotion to inspire a generous purpose! With suppressed indignation, shrinking from the press, such have condemned themselves to a Carthusian silence; but the public will gain as little by silent authors as by a community of lazy monks; or a choir of singers who insist they have lost their voice. That undue severity of criticism which diminishes the number of good authors, is a greater calamity than even that mawkish panegyric which may invite indifferent ones; for the truth is, a bad book produces no great evil in literature; it dies soon, and naturally; and the feeble birth only disappoints its unlucky parent, with a score of idlers who are the dupes of their rage after novelty. A bad book never sells unless it be 140 addressed to the passions, and, in that case, the severest criticism will never impede its circulation; malignity and curiosity being passions so much stronger and less delicate than taste or truth.

And who are the authors marked out for attack? Scarcely one of the populace of scribblers; for wit will not lose one silver shaft on game which, struck, no one would take up. It must level at the Historian, whose novel researches throw a light in the depths of antiquity; at the Poet, who, addressing himself to the imagination, perishes if that sole avenue to the heart be closed on him. Such are those who receive the criticism which has sent some nervous authors to their graves, and embittered the life of many whose talents we all regard.[99]

But this species of criticism, though ungenial and nipping at first, does not always kill the tree which it has frozen over.

In the calamity before us, Time, that great autocrat, who in its tremendous march destroys authors, also annihilates critics; and acting in this instance with a new kind of benevolence, takes up some who have been violently thrown down, and fixes them in their proper place; and daily enfeebling unjust criticism, has restored an injured author to his full honours.

It is, however, lamentable enough that authors must participate in that courage which faces the cannon’s mouth, or cease to be authors; for military enterprise is not the taste of modest, retired, and timorous characters. The late Mr. Cumberland used to say that authors must not be thin-skinned, but shelled like the rhinoceros; there are, however, more delicately tempered animals among them, new-born lambs, who shudder at a touch, and die under a pressure.

As for those great authors (though the greatest shrink from ridicule) who still retain public favour, they must be 141 patient, proud, and fearless—patient of that obloquy which still will stain their honour from literary echoers; proud, while they are sensible that their literary offspring is not

Deformed, unfinished, sent before its time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up.

And fearless of all critics, when they recollect the reply of Bentley to one who threatened to write him down, “that no author was ever written down but by himself.”

An author must consider himself as an arrow shot into the world; his impulse must be stronger than the current of air that carries him on—else he fall!

The character I had proposed to illustrate this calamity was the caustic Dr. Kenrick, who, once during several years, was, in his “London Review,” one of the great disturbers of literary repose. The turn of his criticism; the airiness, or the asperity of his sarcasm; the arrogance with which he treated some of our great authors, would prove very amusing, and serve to display a certain talent of criticism. The life of Kenrick, too, would have afforded some wholesome instruction concerning the morality of a critic. But the rich materials are not at hand! He was a man of talents, who ran a race with the press; could criticise all the genius of the age faster than it could be produced; could make his own malignity look like wit, and turn the wit of others into absurdity, by placing it topsy-turvy. As thus, when he attacked “The Traveller” of Goldsmith, which he called “a flimsy poem,” he discussed the subject as a grave political pamphlet, condemning the whole system, as raised on false principles. “The Deserted Village” was sneeringly pronounced to be “pretty;” but then it had “neither fancy, dignity, genius, or fire.” When he reviewed Johnson’s “Tour to the Hebrides,” he decrees that the whole book was written “by one who had seen but little,” and therefore could not be very interesting. His virulent attack on Johnson’s Shakspeare may be preserved for its total want of literary decency; and his “Love in the Suds, a Town Eclogue,” where he has placed Garrick with an infamous character, may be useful to show how far witty malignity will advance in the violation of moral decency. He libelled all the genius of the age, and was proud of doing it.[100] 142 Johnson and Akenside preserved a stern silence: but poor Goldsmith, the child of Nature, could not resist attempting to execute martial law, by caning the critic; for which being blamed, he published a defence of himself in the papers. I shall transcribe his feelings on Kenrick’s excessive and illiberal criticism.

“The law gives us no protection against this injury. The insults we receive before the public, by being more open, are the more distressing; by treating them with silent contempt, we do not pay a sufficient deference to the opinion of the world. By recurring to legal redress, we too often expose the weakness of the law, which only serves to increase our mortification by failing to relieve us. In short, every man should singly consider himself as a guardian of the liberty of the press, and, as far as his influence can extend, should endeavour to prevent its licentiousness becoming at last the grave of its freedom.”[101]

Here then is another calamity arising from the calamity of undue severity of criticism, which authors bring on themselves by their excessive anxiety, which throws them into some extremely ridiculous attitudes; and surprisingly influences even authors of good sense and temper. Scott, of Amwell, the Quaker and Poet, was, doubtless, a modest and amiable man, for Johnson declared “he loved him.” When his poems were collected, they were reviewed in the “Critical Review” very offensively to the poet; for the critic, alluding to the numerous embellishments of the volume, observed that

“There is a profusion of ornaments and finery about this 143 book not quite suitable to the plainness and simplicity of the Barclean system; but Mr. Scott is fond of the Muses, and wishes, we suppose, like Captain Macheath, to see his ladies well dressed.”

Such was the cold affected witticism of the critic, whom I intimately knew—and I believe he meant little harm! His friends imagined even that this was the solitary attempt at wit he had ever made in his life; for after a lapse of years, he would still recur to it as an evidence of the felicity of his fancy, and the keenness of his satire. The truth is, he was a physician, whose name is prefixed as the editor to a great medical compilation, and who never pretended that he had any taste for poetry. His great art of poetical criticism was always, as Pope expresses a character, “to dwell in decencies;” his acumen, to detect that terrible poetic crime false rhymes, and to employ indefinite terms, which, as they had no precise meaning, were applicable to all things; to commend, occasionally, a passage not always the most exquisite; sometimes to hesitate, while, with delightful candour, he seemed to give up his opinion; to hazard sometimes a positive condemnation on parts which often unluckily proved the most favourite with the poet and the reader. Such was this poetical reviewer, whom no one disturbed in his periodical course, till the circumstance of a plain Quaker becoming a poet, and fluttering in the finical ornaments of his book, provoked him from that calm state of innocent mediocrity, into miserable humour, and illiberal criticism.

The effect, however, this pert criticism had on poor Scott was indeed a calamity. It produced an inconsiderate “Letter to the Critical Reviewers.” Scott was justly offended at the stigma of Quakerism, applied to the author of a literary composition; but too gravely accuses the critic of his scurrilous allusion to Macheath, as comparing him to a highwayman; he seems, however, more provoked at the odd account of his poems; he says, “You rank all my poems together as bad, then discriminate some as good, and, to complete all, recommend the volume as an agreeable and amusing collection.” Had the poet been personally acquainted with this tantalizing critic, he would have comprehended the nature of the criticism—and certainly would never have replied to it.

The critic, employing one of his indefinite terms, had said of “Amwell,” and some of the early “Elegies,” that “they had their share of poetical merit;” he does not venture to 144 assign the proportion of that share, but “the Amœbean and oriental eclogues, odes, epistles, &c., now added, are of a much weaker feature, and many of them incorrect.”

Here Scott loses all his dignity as a Quaker and a poet—he asks what the critic means by the affected phrase much weaker feature; the style, he says, was designed to be somewhat less elevated, and thus addresses the critic:—

“You may, however, be safely defied to pronounce them, with truth, deficient either in strength or melody of versification! They were designed to be, like Virgil’s, descriptive of Nature, simple and correct. Had you been disposed to do me justice, you might have observed that in these eclogues I had drawn from the great prototype Nature, much imagery that had escaped the notice of all my predecessors. You might also have remarked that when I introduced images that had been already introduced by others, still the arrangement or combination of those images was my own. The praise of originality you might at least have allowed me.”

As for their incorrectness!—Scott points that accusation with a note of admiration, adding, “with whatever defects my works may be chargeable, the last is that of incorrectness.”

We are here involuntarily reminded of Sir Fretful, in The Critic:—

“I think the interest rather declines in the fourth act.”

“Rises! you mean, my dear friend!”

Perhaps the most extraordinary examples of the irritation of a poet’s mind, and a man of amiable temper, are those parts of this letter in which the author quotes large portions of his poetry, to refute the degrading strictures of the reviewer.

This was a fertile principle, admitting of very copious extracts; but the ludicrous attitude is that of an Adonis inspecting himself at his mirror.

That provoking see-saw of criticism, which our learned physician usually adopted in his critiques, was particularly tantalizing to the poet of Amwell. The critic condemns, in the gross, a whole set of eclogues; but immediately asserts of one of them, that “the whole of it has great poetical merit, and paints its subject in the warmest colours.” When he came to review the odes, he discovers that “he does not meet with those polished numbers, nor that freedom and spirit, which that species of poetry requires;” and quotes half 145 a stanza, which he declares is “abrupt and insipid.” “From twenty-seven odes!” exclaims the writhing poet—“are the whole of my lyric productions to be stigmatised for four lines which are flatter than those that preceded them?” But what the critic could not be aware of, the poet tells us—he designed them to be just what they are. “I knew they were so when they were first written, but they were thought sufficiently elevated for the place.” And then he enters into an inquiry what the critic can mean by “polished numbers, freedom, and spirit.” The passage is curious:—

“By your first criticism, polished numbers, if you mean melodious versification, this perhaps the general ear will not deny me. If you mean classical, chaste diction, free from tautologous repetitions of the same thoughts in different expressions; free from bad rhymes, unnecessary epithets, and incongruous metaphors, I believe you may be safely challenged to produce many instances wherein I have failed.

“By freedom, your second criterion, if you mean daring transition, or arbitrary and desultory disposition of ideas, however this may be required in the greater ode, it is now, I believe, for the first time, expected in the lesser ode. If you mean that careless, diffuse composition, that conversation-verse, or verse loitering into prose, now so fashionable, this is an excellence which I am not very ambitious of attaining. But if you mean strong, concise, yet natural easy expression, I apprehend the general judgment will decide in my favour. To the general ear, and the general judgment, then, do I appeal as to an impartial tribunal.” Here several odes are transcribed. “By spirit, your third criticism, I know nothing you can mean but enthusiasm; that which transports us to every scene, and interests us in every sentiment. Poetry without this cannot subsist; every species demands its proportion, from the greater ode, of which it is the principal characteristic, to the lesser, in which a small portion of it only has hitherto been thought requisite. My productions, I apprehend, have never before been deemed destitute of this essential constituent. Whatever I have wrote, I have felt, and I believe others have felt it also.”

On “the Epistles,” which had been condemned in the gross, suddenly the critic turns round courteously to the bard, declaring “they are written in an easy and familiar style, and seem to flow from a good and a benevolent heart.” But then sneeringly adds, that one of them being entitled “An Essay 146 on Painting, addressed to a young Artist, had better have been omitted, because it had been so fully treated in so masterly a manner by Mr. Hayley.” This was letting fall a spark in a barrel of gunpowder. Scott immediately analyses his brother poet’s poem, to show they have nothing in common; and then compares those similar passages the subject naturally produced, to show that “his poem does not suffer greatly in the comparison.” “You may,” he adds, after giving copious extracts from both poems, “persist in saying that Mr. Hayley’s are the best. Your business then is to prove it.” This, indeed, had been a very hazardous affair for our medical critic, whose poetical feelings were so equable, that he acknowledges “Mr. Scott’s poem is just and elegant,” but “Mr. Hayley’s is likewise just and elegant;” therefore, if one man has written a piece “just and elegant,” there is no need of another on the same subject “just and elegant.”

To such an extreme point of egotism was a modest and respectable author most cruelly driven by the callous playfulness of a poetical critic, who himself had no sympathy for poetry of any quality or any species, and whose sole art consisted in turning about the canting dictionary of criticism. Had Homer been a modern candidate for poetical honours, from him Homer had not been distinguished, even from the mediocrity of Scott of Amwell, whose poetical merits are not, however, slight. In his Amœbean eclogues he may be distinguished as the poet of botanists.


Vast erudition, without the tact of good sense, in a voluminous author, what a calamity! for to such a mind no subject can present itself on which he is unprepared to write, and none at the same time on which he can ever write reasonably. The name and the works of William Prynne have often come under the eye of the reader; but it is even now difficult to discover his real character; for Prynne stood so completely insulated amid all parties, that he was ridiculed by his friends, and execrated by his enemies. The exuberance of his fertile pen, the strangeness and the manner of his subjects, and his pertinacity in voluminous publication, are known, and are nearly unparalleled in literary history.

Could the man himself be separated from the author, 147 Prynne would not appear ridiculous; but the unlucky author of nearly two hundred works,[102] and who, as Wood quaintly computes, “must have written a sheet every day of his life, reckoning from the time that he came to the use of reason and the state of man,” has involved his life in his authorship; the greatness of his character loses itself in his voluminous works; and whatever Prynne may have been in his own age, and remains to posterity, he was fated to endure all the calamities of an author who has strained learning into absurdity, and abused zealous industry by chimerical speculation.

Yet his activity, and the firmness and intrepidity of his character in public life, were as ardent as they were in his study—his soul was Roman; and Eachard says, that Charles II., who could not but admire his earnest honesty, his copious learning, and the public persecutions he suffered, and the ten imprisonments he endured, inflicted by all parties, dignified him with the title of “the Cato of the Age;” and one of his own party facetiously described him as “William the Conqueror,” a title he had most hardly earned by his inflexible and invincible nature. Twice he had been cropped of his ears; for at the first time the executioner having spared the two fragments, the inhuman judge on his second trial discovering them with astonishment, ordered them to be most unmercifully cropped—then he was burned on his cheek, and ruinously fined and imprisoned in a remote solitude,[103]—but 148 had they torn him limb by limb, Prynne had been in his mind a very polypus, which, cut into pieces, still loses none of its individuality.

His conduct on the last of these occasions, when sentenced to be stigmatised, and to have his ears cut close, must be noticed. Turning to the executioner, he calmly invited him to do his duty—“Come, friend, come, burn me! cut me! I fear not! I have learned to fear the fire of hell, and not what man can do unto me; come, scar me! scar me!” In Prynne this was not ferocity, but heroism; Bastwick was intrepid out of spite, and Burton from fanaticism. The executioner had been urged not to spare his victims, and he performed his office with extraordinary severity, cruelly heating his iron twice, and cutting one of Prynne’s ears so close, as to take away a piece of the cheek. Prynne stirred not in the torture; and when it was done, smiled, observing, “The more I am 149 beaten down, the more I am lift up.” After this punishment, in going to the Tower by water, he composed the following verses on the two letters branded on his cheek, S. L., for schismatical libeller, but which Prynne chose to translate “Stigmata Laudis,” the stigmas of his enemy, the Archbishop Laud.

Stigmata maxillis referens insignia Laudis,
 Exultans remeo, victima grata Deo.

The heroic man, who could endure agony and insult, and even thus commemorate his sufferings, with no unpoetical conception, almost degrades his own sublimity when the poetaster sets our teeth on edge by his verse.

Bearing Laud’s stamps on my cheeks I retire
Triumphing, God’s sweet sacrifice by fire.

The triumph of this unconquered being was, indeed, signal. History scarcely exhibits so wonderful a reverse of fortune, and so strict a retribution, as occurred at this eventful period. He who had borne from the archbishop and the lords in the Star Chamber the most virulent invectives, wishing them at that instant seriously to consider that some who sat there on the bench might yet stand prisoners at the bar, and need the favour they now denied, at length saw the prediction completely verified. What were the feelings of Laud, when Prynne, returning from his prison of Mount Orgueil in triumph, the road strewed with boughs, amid the acclamations of the people, entered the apartment in the Tower which the venerable Laud now in his turn occupied. The unsparing Puritan sternly performed the office of rifling his papers,[104] and persecuted the helpless prelate till he led him to 150 the block. Prynne, to use his own words, for he could be eloquent when moved by passion, “had struck proud Canterbury to the heart; and had undermined all his prelatical designs to advance the bishops’ pomp and power;”[105] Prynne triumphed—but, even this austere Puritan soon grieved over the calamities he had contributed to inflict on the nation; and, with a humane feeling, he once wished, that “when they had cut off his ears, they had cut off his head.” He closed his political existence by becoming an advocate for the Restoration; but, with his accustomed want of judgment and intemperate zeal, had nearly injured the cause by his premature activity. At the Restoration some difficulty occurred to dispose of “busie Mr. Pryn,” as Whitelocke calls him. It is said he wished to be one of the Barons of the 151 Exchequer, but he was made the Keeper of the Records in the Tower, “purposely to employ his head from scribbling against the state and bishops;” where they put him to clear the Augean stable of our national antiquities, and see whether they could weary out his restless vigour. Prynne had, indeed, written till he found no antagonist would reply; and now he rioted in leafy folios, and proved himself to be one of the greatest paper-worms which ever crept into old books and mouldy records.[106]

The literary character of Prynne is described by the happy epithet which Anthony Wood applies to him, “Voluminous Prynne.” His great characteristic is opposed to that axiom of Hesiod so often quoted, that “half is better than the whole;” a secret which the matter-of-fact men rarely discover. Wanting judgment, and the tact of good sense, these detailers have no power of selection from their stores, to make one prominent fact represent the hundred minuter ones that may follow it. Voluminously feeble, they imagine expansion is stronger than compression; and know not to generalise, while they only can deal in particulars. Prynne’s speeches were just as voluminous as his writings; always deficient in judgment, and abounding in knowledge—he was always wearying others, but never could himself. He once made a speech to the House, to persuade them the king’s concessions were sufficient ground for a treaty; it contains a complete narrative of all the transactions between the king, the Houses, and the army, from the beginning of the parliament; it takes up 140 octavo pages, and kept the house so long together, that the debates lasted from Monday morning till Tuesday morning!

Prynne’s literary character may be illustrated by his singular book, “Histriomastix,”—where we observe how an author’s exuberant learning, like corn heaped in a granary, grows rank and musty, by a want of power to ventilate and stir about the heavy mass.

This paper-worm may first be viewed in his study, as 152 painted by the picturesque Anthony Wood; an artist in the Flemish school:—

“His custom, when he studied, was to put on a long quilted cap, which came an inch over his eyes, serving as an umbrella to defend them from too much light, and seldom eating any dinner, would be every three hours maunching a roll of bread, and now and then refresh his exhausted spirits with ale brought to him by his servant;” a custom to which Butler alludes,

Thou that with ale, or viler liquors,
Didst inspire Withers, Prynne, and Vicars,
And force them, though it were in spite
Of nature, and their stars, to write.

The “Histriomastix, the Player’s Scourge, or Actor’s Tragedie,” is a ponderous quarto, ascending to about 1100 pages; a Puritan’s invective against plays and players, accusing them of every kind of crime, including libels against Church and State;[107] but it is more remarkable for the incalculable quotations and references foaming over the margins. Prynne scarcely ventures on the most trivial opinion, without calling to his aid whatever had been said in all nations and in all ages; and Cicero, and Master Stubbs, Petrarch and Minutius Felix, Isaiah and Froissart’s Chronicle, oddly associate in the ravings of erudition. Who, indeed, but the author “who seldom dined,” could have quoted perhaps a thousand writers in one volume?[108] A wit of the times remarked of this Helluo librorum, that “Nature makes ever the dullest beasts most laborious, and the greatest feeders;” and Prynne has been reproached with a weak digestion, for “returning things unaltered, which is a symptom of a feeble stomach.”

When we examine this volume, often alluded to, the birth of the monster seems prodigious and mysterious; it combines two opposite qualities; it is so elaborate in its researches among the thousand authors quoted, that these required years to accumulate, and yet the matter is often temporary, 153 and levelled at fugitive events and particular persons; thus the very formation of this mighty volume seems paradoxical. The secret history of this book is as extraordinary as the book itself, and is a remarkable evidence how, in a work of immense erudition, the arts of a wily sage involved himself, and whoever was concerned in his book, in total ruin. The author was pilloried, fined, and imprisoned; his publisher condemned in the penalty of five hundred pounds, and barred for ever from printing and selling books, and the licenser removed and punished. Such was the fatality attending the book of a man whose literary voracity produced one of the most tremendous indigestions, in a malady of writing.

It was on examining Prynne’s trial I discovered the secret history of the “Histriomastix.” Prynne was seven years in writing this work, and, what is almost incredible, it was near four years passing through the press. During that interval the eternal scribbler was daily gorging himself with voluminous food, and daily fattening his cooped-up capon. The temporary sedition and libels were the gradual Mosaic inlayings through this shapeless mass.

It appears that the volume of 1100 quarto pages originally consisted of little more than a quire of paper; but Prynne found insuperable difficulties in procuring a licenser, even for this infant Hercules. Dr. Goode deposed that—

“About eight years ago Mr. Prynne brought to him a quire of paper to license, which he refused; and he recollected the circumstance by having held an argument with Prynne on his severe reprehension on the unlawfulness of a man to put on women’s apparel, which, the good-humoured doctor asserted was not always unlawful; for suppose Mr. Prynne yourself, as a Christian, was persecuted by pagans, think you not if you disguised yourself in your maid’s apparel, you did well? Prynne sternly answered that he thought himself bound rather to yield to death than to do so.”

Another licenser, Dr. Harris, deposed, that about seven years ago—

“Mr. Prynne came to him to license a treatise concerning stage-plays; but he would not allow of the same;”—and adds, “So this man did deliver this book when it was young and tender, and would have had it then printed; but it is since grown seven times bigger, and seven times worse.”

Prynne not being able to procure these licensers, had 154 recourse to another, Buckner, chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was usual for the licenser to examine the MS. before it went to the press; but Prynne either tampered with Buckner, or so confused his intellects by keeping his multifarious volume in the press for four years; and sometimes, I suspect, by numbering folios for pages, as appears in the work, that the examination of the licenser gradually relaxed; and he declares in his defence that he had only licensed part of it. The bookseller, Sparks, was indeed a noted publisher of what was then called “Unlawful and unlicensed books;” and he had declared that it was “an excellent book, which would be called in, and then sell well.” He confesses the book had been more than three years in the press, and had cost him three hundred pounds.

The speech of Noy, the Attorney-General, conveys some notion of the work itself; sufficiently curious as giving the feelings of those times against the Puritans.

“Who he means by his modern innovators in the church, and by cringing and ducking to altars, a fit term to bestow on the church; he learned it of the canters, being used among them. The musick in the church, the charitable term he giveth it, is not to be a noise of men, but rather a bleating of brute beasts; choristers bellow the tenor, as it were oxen; bark a counterpoint as a kennel of dogs; roar out a treble like a sort of bulls; grunt out a bass, as it were a number of hogs. Bishops he calls the silk and satin divines; says Christ was a Puritan, in his Index. He falleth on those things that have not relation to stage-plays, musick in the church, dancing, new-years’ gifts, &c.,—then upon altars, images, hair of men and women, bishops and bonfires. Cards and tables do offend him, and perukes do fall within the compass of his theme. His end is to persuade the people that we are returning back again to paganism, and to persuade them to go and serve God in another country, as many are gone already, and set up new laws and fancies among themselves. Consider what may come of it!”

The decision of the Lords of the Star Chamber was dictated by passion as much as justice. Its severity exceeded the crime of having produced an unreadable volume of indigested erudition; and the learned scribbler was too hardly used, scarcely escaping with life. Lord Cottington, amazed at the mighty volume, too bluntly affirmed that Prynne did not write this book alone; “he either assisted the devil, or was 155 assisted by the devil.” But secretary Cooke delivered a sensible and temperate speech; remarking on all its false erudition that,

“By this vast book of Mr. Prynne’s, it appeareth that he hath read more than he hath studied, and studied more than he hath considered. He calleth his book ‘Histriomastix;’ but therein he showeth himself like unto Ajax Anthropomastix, as the Grecians called him, the scourge of all mankind, that is, the whipper and the whip.”

Such is the history of a man whose greatness of character was clouded over and lost in a fatal passion for scribbling; such is the history of a voluminous author whose genius was such that he could write a folio much easier than a page; and “seldom dined” that he might quote “squadrons of authorities.”[109]


The name of Toland is more familiar than his character, yet his literary portrait has great singularity; he must be classed among the “Authors by Profession,” an honour secured by near fifty publications; and we shall discover that he aimed to combine with the literary character one peculiarly his own.[110] 156 With higher talents and more learning than have been conceded to him, there ran in his mind an original vein of thinking. Yet his whole life exhibits in how small a degree great intellectual powers, when scattered through all the forms which Vanity suggests, will contribute to an author’s social comforts, or raise him in public esteem. Toland was fruitful in his productions, and still more so in his projects; yet it is mortifying to estimate the result of all the intense activity of the life of an author of genius, which terminates in being placed among these Calamities.

Toland’s birth was probably illegitimate; a circumstance which influenced the formation of his character. Baptised in ridicule, he had nearly fallen a victim to Mr. Shandy’s system of Christian names, for he bore the strange ones of Janus Junius, which, when the school-roll was called over every morning, afforded perpetual merriment, till the master blessed him with plain John, which the boy adopted, and lived in quiet. I must say something on the names themselves, perhaps as ridiculous! May they not have influenced the character of Toland, since they certainly describe it? He had all the shiftings of the double-faced Janus, and the revolutionary politics of the ancient Junius. His godfathers sent him into the world in cruel mockery, thus to remind their Irish boy of the fortunes that await the desperately bold: nor did Toland forget the strong-marked designations; for to his most objectionable work, the Latin tract entitled Pantheisticon, descriptive of what some have considered as an atheistical society, he subscribes these appropriate names, which at the time were imagined to be fictitious.

Toland ran away from school and Popery. When in after-life he was reproached with native obscurity, he ostentatiously produced a testimonial of his birth and family, hatched up at a convent of Irish Franciscans in Germany, where the good Fathers subscribed, with their ink tinged with their Rhenish, to his most ancient descent, referring to the Irish history! which they considered as a parish register, fit for the suspected son of an Irish Priest!

Toland, from early life, was therefore dependent on patrons; but illegitimate birth creates strong and determined characters, and Toland had all the force and originality of self-independence. He was a seed thrown by chance, to grow of itself wherever it falls.

This child of fortune studied at four Universities; at Glasgow, 157 Edinburgh, and Leyden; from the latter he passed to Oxford, and, in the Bodleian Library, collected the materials for his after-studies.

He loved study, and even at a later period declares that “no employment or condition of life shall make me disrelish the lasting entertainment of books.” In his “Description of Epsom,” he observes that the taste for retirement, reading, and contemplation, promotes the true relish for select company, and says,

“Thus I remove at pleasure, as I grow weary of the country or the town, as I avoid a crowd or seek company.—Here, then, let me have books and bread enough without dependence; a bottle of hermitage and a plate of olives for a select friend; with an early rose to present a young lady as an emblem of discretion no less than of beauty.”

At Oxford appeared that predilection for paradoxes and over-curious speculations, which formed afterwards the marking feature of his literary character. He has been unjustly contemned as a sciolist; he was the correspondent of Leibnitz, Le Clerc, and Bayle, and was a learned author when scarcely a man. He first published a Dissertation on the strange tragical death of Regulus, and proved it a Roman legend. A greater paradox might have been his projected speculation on Job, to demonstrate that only the dialogue was genuine; the rest being the work of some idle Rabbin, who had invented a monstrous story to account for the extraordinary afflictions of that model of a divine mind. Speculations of so much learning and ingenuity are uncommon in a young man; but Toland was so unfortunate as to value his own merits before those who did not care to hear of them.

Hardy vanity was to recompense him, perhaps he thought, for that want of fortune and connexions, which raised duller spirits above him. Vain, loquacious, inconsiderate, and daring, he assumed the dictatorship of a coffee-house, and obtained easy conquests, which he mistook for glorious ones, over the graver fellows, who had for many a year awfully petrified their own colleges. He gave more violent offence by his new opinions on religion. An anonymous person addressed two letters to this new Heresiarch, solemn and monitory.[111] Toland’s answer is as honourable as that of his monitor’s. This passage is forcibly conceived:—


“To what purpose should I study here or elsewhere, were I an atheist or deist, for one of the two you take me to be? What a condition to mention virtue, if I believed there was no God, or one so impotent that could not, or so malicious that would not, reveal himself! Nay, though I granted a Deity, yet, if nothing of me subsisted after death, what laws could bind, what incentives could move me to common honesty? Annihilation would be a sanctuary for all my sins, and put an end to my crimes with myself. Believe me I am not so indifferent to the evils of the present life, but, without the expectation of a better, I should soon suspend the mechanism of my body, and resolve into inconscious atoms.”

This early moment of his life proved to be its crisis, and the first step he took decided his after-progress. His first great work of “Christianity not Mysterious,” produced immense consequences. Toland persevered in denying that it was designed as any attack on Christianity, but only on those subtractions, additions, and other alterations, which have corrupted that pure institution. The work, at least, like its title, is “Mysterious.”[112] Toland passed over to Ireland, but his book having got there before him, the author beheld himself anathematized; the pulpits thundered, and it was dangerous to be seen conversing with him. A jury who confessed they could not comprehend a page of his book, condemned it to be burned. Toland now felt a tenderness for his person; and the humane Molyneux, the friend of Locke, while he censures the imprudent vanity of our author, gladly witnessed the flight of “the poor gentleman.” But South, indignant at our English moderation in his own controversy with Sherlock on some doctrinal points of the Trinity, congratulates the Archbishop of Dublin on the Irish persecution; and equally witty and intolerant, he writes on Toland, “Your Parliament presently sent him packing, and without the help of a fagot, soon made the kingdom too hot for him.”


Toland was accused of an intention to found a sect, as South calls them, of “Mahometan-Christians.” Many were stigmatised as Tolandists; but the disciples of a man who never procured for their prophet a bit of dinner or a new wig, for he was frequently wanting both, were not to be feared as enthusiasts. The persecution from the church only rankled in the breast of Toland, and excited unextinguishable revenge.

He now breathed awhile from the bonfire of theology; and our Janus turned his political face. He edited Milton’s voluminous politics, and Harrington’s fantastical “Oceana,” and, as his “Christianity not Mysterious” had stamped his religion with something worse than heresy, so in politics he was branded as a Commonwealth’s-man. Toland had evidently strong nerves; for him opposition produced controversy, which he loved, and controversy produced books, by which he lived.

But let it not be imagined that Toland affected to be considered as no Christian, or avowed himself as a Republican. “Civil and religious toleration” (he says) “have been the two main objects of all my writings.” He declares himself to be only a primitive Christian, and a pure Whig. But an author must not be permitted to understand himself so much more clearly than he has enabled his readers to do. His mysterious conduct may be detected in his want of moral integrity.

He had the art of explaining away his own words, as in his first controversy about the word mystery in religion, and he exults in his artifice; for, in a letter, where he is soliciting the minister for employment, he says:—“The church is much exasperated against me; yet as that is the heaviest article, so it is undoubtedly the easiest conquered, and I know the infallible method of doing it.” And, in a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, he promises to reform his religion to that prelate’s liking! He took the sacrament as an opening for the negotiation.

What can be more explicit than his recantation at the close of his Vindicius Liberius? After telling us that he had withdrawn from sale, after the second edition, his “‘Christianity not Mysterious,’ when I perceived what real or pretended offence it had given,” he concludes thus:—“Being now arrived to years that will not wholly excuse inconsiderateness in resolving, or precipitance in acting, I firmly hope that my persuasion and practice will show me to be a true Christian; that my due conformity to the public worship may 160 prove me to be a good Churchman; and that my untainted loyalty to King William will argue me to be a staunch Commonwealth’s-man. That I shall continue all my life a friend to religion, an enemy to superstition, a supporter of good kings, and a deposer of tyrants.”

Observe, this Vindicius Liberius was published on his return from one of his political tours in Germany. His views were then of a very different nature from those of controversial divinity; but it was absolutely necessary to allay the storm the church had raised against him. We begin now to understand a little better the character of Toland. These literary adventurers, with heroic pretensions, can practise the meanest artifices, and shrink themselves into nothing to creep out of a hole. How does this recantation agree with the “Nazarenus,” and the other theological works which Toland was publishing all his life? Posterity only can judge of men’s characters; it takes in at a glance the whole of a life; but contemporaries only view a part, often apparently unconnected and at variance, when in fact it is neither. This recantation is full of the spirit of Janus Junius Toland.

But we are concerned chiefly with Toland’s literary character. He was so confirmed an author, that he never published one book without promising another. He refers to others in MS.; and some of his most curious works are posthumous. He was a great artificer of title-pages, covering them with a promising luxuriance; and in this way recommended his works to the booksellers. He had an odd taste for running inscriptions of whimsical crabbed terms; the gold-dust of erudition to gild over a title; such as “Tetradymus, Hodegus, Clidopharus;” “Adeisidaemon, or the Unsuperstitious.” He pretends these affected titles indicated their several subjects; but the genius of Toland could descend to literary quackery.

He had the art of propagating books; his small Life of Milton produced several; besides the complacency he felt in extracting long passages from Milton against the bishops. In this Life, his attack on the authenticity of the Eikon Basilike of Charles I. branched into another on supposititious writings; and this included the spurious gospels. Association of ideas is a nursing mother to the fertility of authorship. The spurious gospels opened a fresh theological campaign, and produced his “Amyntor.” There was no end in provoking an author, who, in writing the life of a poet, could 161 contrive to put the authenticity of the Testament to the proof.

Amid his philosophical labours, his vanity induced him to seize on all temporary topics to which his facility and ingenuity gave currency. The choice of his subjects forms an amusing catalogue; for he had “Remarks” and “Projects” as fast as events were passing. He wrote on the “Art of Governing by Parties,” on “Anglia Liberia,” “Reasons for Naturalising the Jews,” on “The Art of Canvassing at Elections,” “On raising a National Bank without Capital,” “The State Anatomy,” “Dunkirk or Dover,” &c. &c. These, and many like these, set off with catching titles, proved to the author that a man of genius may be capable of writing on all topics at all times, and make the country his debtor without benefiting his own creditors.[113]

There was a moment in Toland’s life when he felt, or thought he felt, fortune in his grasp. He was then floating on the ideal waves of the South Sea bubble. The poor author, elated with a notion that he was rich enough to print at his own cost, dispersed copies of his absurd “Pantheisticon.” He describes a society of Pantheists, who worship the universe as God; a mystery much greater than those he attacked in Christianity. Their prayers are passages from Cicero and Seneca, and they chant long poems instead of psalms; so that in their zeal they endured a little tediousness. The next objectionable circumstance in this wild ebullition of philosophical wantonness is the apparent burlesque of some liturgies; and a wag having inserted in some copies an impious prayer to Bacchus, Toland suffered for the folly of others as well as his own.[114] With the South Sea bubble vanished Toland’s desire 162 of printing books at his own risk; and thus relieved the world from the weight of more Pantheisticons!

With all this bustle of authorship, amidst temporary publications which required such prompt ingenuity, and elaborate works which matured the fruits of early studies, Toland was still not a sedentary writer. I find that he often travelled on the continent; but how could a guinealess author so easily transport himself from Flanders to Germany, and appear at home in the courts of Berlin, Dresden, and Hanover? Perhaps we may discover a concealed feature in the character of our ambiguous philosopher.

In the only Life we have of Toland, by Des Maiseaux, prefixed to his posthumous works, he tells us, that Toland was at the court of Berlin, but “an incident, too ludicrous to be mentioned, obliged him to leave that place sooner than he expected.” Here is an incident in a narrative clearly marked out, but never to be supplied! Whatever this incident was, it had this important result, that it sent Toland away in haste; but why was he there? Our chronological biographer,[115] “good easy man,” suspects nothing more extraordinary when he tells us Toland was at Berlin or Hanover, than when he finds him at Epsom; imagines Toland only went to the Electoral Princess Sophia, and the Queen of Prussia, who were “ladies of sublime genius,” to entertain them by vexing some grave German divines, with philosophical conferences, and paradoxical conundrums; all the ravings of Toland’s idleness.[116]

This secret history of Toland can only be picked out by fine threads. He professed to be a literary character—he had opened a periodical “literary correspondence,” as he terms it, with Prince Eugene; such as we have witnessed in our days by Grimm and La Harpe, addressed to some northern princes. He was a favourite with the Electoral 163 Princess Sophia and the Queen of Prussia, to whom he addressed his “Letters to Serena.” Was he a political agent? Yet how was it that Toland was often driven home by distressed circumstances? He seems not to have been a practical politician, for he managed his own affairs very ill. Was the political intriguer rather a suspected than a confidential servant of all his masters and mistresses? for it is evident no one cared for him! The absence of moral integrity was probably never disguised by the loquacious vanity of this literary adventurer.

In his posthumous works are several “Memorials” for the Earl of Oxford, which throw a new light over a union of political espionage with the literary character, which finally concluded in producing that extraordinary one which the political imagination of Toland created in all the obscurity and heat of his reveries.

In one of these “Memorials,” forcibly written and full of curiosity, Toland remonstrates with the minister for his marked neglect of him; opens the scheme of a political tour, where, like Guthrie, he would be content with his quarterage. He defines his character; for the independent Whig affects to spurn at the office, though he might not shrink at the duties of a spy.

“Whether such a person, sir, who is neither minister nor spy, and as a lover of learning will be welcome everywhere, may not prove of extraordinary use to my Lord Treasurer, as well as to his predecessor Burleigh, who employed such, I leave his lordship and you to consider.”

Still this character, whatever title may designate it, is inferior in dignity and importance to that which Toland afterwards projected, and which portrays him where his life-writer has not given a touch from his brush; it is a political curiosity.

“I laid an honester scheme of serving my country, your lordship, and myself; for, seeing it was neither convenient for you, nor a thing at all desired by me, that I should appear in any public post, I sincerely proposed, as occasions should offer, to communicate to your lordship my observations on the temper of the ministry, the dispositions of the people, the condition of our enemies or allies abroad, and what I might think most expedient in every conjuncture; which advice you were to follow in whole, or in part, or not at all, as your own superior wisdom should direct. My general acquaintance, 164 the several languages I speak, the experience I have acquired in foreign affairs, and being engaged in no interest at home, besides that of the public, should qualify me in some measure for this province. All wise ministers have ever had such private monitors. As much as I thought myself fit, or was thought so by others, for such general observations, so much have I ever abhorred, my lord, those particular observers we call Spies; but I despise the calumny no less than I detest the thing. Of such general observations, you should have perused a far greater number than I thought fit to present hitherto, had I discovered, by due effects, that they were acceptable from me; for they must unavoidably be received from somebody, unless a minister were omniscient—yet I soon had good reason to believe I was not designed for the man, whatever the original sin could be that made me incapable of such a trust, and which I now begin to suspect. Without direct answers to my proposals, how could I know whether I helped my friends elsewhere, or betrayed them contrary to my intentions! and accordingly I have for some time been very cautious and reserved. But if your lordship will enter into any measures with me to procure the good of my country, I shall be more ready to serve your lordship in this, or in some becoming capacity, than any other minister. They who confided to my management affairs of a higher nature have found me exact as well as secret. My impenetrable negociation at Vienna (hid under the pretence of curiosity) was not only applauded by the prince that employed me, but also proportionably rewarded. And here, my lord, give me leave to say that I have found England miserably served abroad since this change; and our ministers at home are sometimes as great strangers to the genius as to the persons of those with whom they have to do. At —— you have placed the most unacceptable man in the world—one that lived in a scandalous misunderstanding with the minister of the States at another court—one that has been the laughing-stock of all courts, for his senseless haughtiness and most ridiculous airs—and one that can never judge aright, unless by accident, in anything.”

The discarded, or the suspected private monitor of the Minister warms into the tenderest language of political amour, and mourns their rupture but as the quarrels of lovers.


“I cannot, from all these considerations, but in the nature of a lover, complain of your present neglect, and be solicitous for your future care.” And again, “I have made use of the simile of a lover, and as such, indeed, I thought fit, once for all, to come to a thorough explanation, resolved, if my affection be not killed by your unkindness, to become indissolubly yours.”

Such is the nice artifice which colours, with a pretended love of his country, the sordidness of the political intriguer, giving clean names to filthy things. But this view of the political face of our Janus is not complete till we discover the levity he could carry into politics when not disguised by more pompous pretensions. I shall give two extracts from letters composed in a different spirit.

“I am bound for Germany, though first for Flanders, and next for Holland. I believe I shall be pretty well accommodated for this voyage, which I expect will be very short. Lord! how near was my old woman being a queen! and your humble servant being at his ease.”

His old woman was the Electoral Princess Sophia; and his ease is what patriots distinguish as the love of their country! Again—

“The October Club,[117] if rightly managed, will be rare stuff to work the ends of any party. I sent such an account of these wights to an old gentlewoman of my acquaintance, as in the midst of fears (the change of ministry) will make her laugh.”

After all his voluminous literature, and his refined politics, Toland lived and died the life of an Author by Profession, in an obscure lodging at a country carpenter’s, in great distress. He had still one patron left, who was himself poor, Lord Molesworth, who promised him, if he lived,

“Bare necessaries. These are but cold comfort to a man of your spirit and desert; but ’tis all I dare promise! ’Tis an ungrateful age, and we must bear with it the best we may till we can mend it.”

And his lordship tells of his unsuccessful application to some Whig lord for Toland; and concludes,


“’Tis a sad monster of a man, and not worthy of further notice.”

I have observed that Toland had strong nerves; he neither feared controversies, nor that which closes all. Having examined his manuscripts, I can sketch a minute picture of the last days of our “author by profession.” At the carpenter’s lodgings he drew up a list of all his books—they were piled on four chairs, to the amount of 155—most of them works which evince the most erudite studies; and as Toland’s learning has been very lightly esteemed, it may be worth notice that some of his MSS. were transcribed in Greek.[118] To this list he adds—“I need not recite those in the closet with the unbound books and pamphlets; nor my trunk, wherein are all my papers and MSS.” I perceive he circulated his MSS. among his friends, for there is a list by him as he lent them, among which are ladies as well as gentlemen, esprits forts!

Never has author died more in character than Toland; he may be said to have died with a busy pen in his hand. Having suffered from an unskilful physician, he avenged himself in his own way; for there was found on his table an “Essay on Physic without Physicians.” The dying patriot-trader was also writing a preface for a political pamphlet on the danger of mercenary Parliaments; and the philosopher 167 was composing his own epitaph—one more proof of the ruling passion predominating in death; but why should a Pantheist be solicitous to perpetuate his genius and his fame! I shall transcribe a few lines; surely they are no evidence of Atheism!

Omnium Literarum excultor,

ac linguarum plus decem sciens;

Veritatis propugnator,

Libertatis assertor;

nullus autem sectator aut cliens,

nec minis, nec malis est inflexus,

quin quam elegit, viam perageret;

utili honestum anteferens.

Spiritus cum æthereo patre,

à quo prodiit olim, conjungitur;

corpus item, Naturæ cedens,

in materno gremio reponitur.

Ipse vero æternum est resurrecturus,
at idem futurus Tolandus nunquam.[119]

One would have imagined that the writer of his own panegyrical epitaph would have been careful to have transmitted to posterity a copy of his features; but I know of no portrait of Toland. His patrons seem never to have been generous, nor his disciples grateful; they mortified rather than indulged the egotism of his genius. There appeared, indeed, an elegy, shortly after the death of Toland, so ingeniously contrived, that it is not clear whether he is eulogised or ridiculed. Amid its solemnity these lines betray the sneer. “Has,” exclaimed the eulogist of the ambiguous philosopher,

Each jarring element gone angry home?
And Master Toland a Non-ens become?

Locke, with all the prescient sagacity of that clear understanding 168 which penetrated under the secret folds of the human heart, anticipated the life of Toland at its commencement. He admired the genius of the man; but, while he valued his parts and learning, he dreaded their result. In a letter I find these passages, which were then so prophetic, and are now so instructive:—

“If his exceeding great value of himself do not deprive the world of that usefulness that his parts, if rightly conducted, might be of, I shall be very glad.—The hopes young men give of what use they will make of their parts is, to me, the encouragement of being concerned for them; but, if vanity increases with age, I always fear whither it will lead a man.”


Pope said that Steele, though he led a careless and vicious life, had nevertheless a love and reverence for virtue. The life of Steele was not that of a retired scholar; hence his moral character becomes more instructive. He was one of those whose hearts are the dupes of their imaginations, and who are hurried through life by the most despotic volition. He always preferred his caprices to his interests; or, according to his own notion, very ingenious, but not a little absurd, “he was always of the humour of preferring the state of his mind to that of his fortune.” The result of this principle of moral conduct was, that a man of the most admirable abilities was perpetually acting like a fool, and, with a warm attachment to virtue, was the frailest of human beings.

In the first act of his life we find the seed that developed itself in the succeeding ones. His uncle could not endure a hero for his heir: but Steele had seen a marching regiment; a sufficient reason with him to enlist as a private in the horse-guards: cocking his hat, and putting on a broad-sword, jack-boots, and shoulder-belt, with the most generous feelings he forfeited a very good estate.—At length Ensign Steele’s frank temper and wit conciliated esteem, and extorted admiration, and the ensign became a favourite leader in all the dissipations of the town. All these were the ebullitions of genius, which had not yet received a legitimate direction. Amid these orgies, however, it was often pensive, and forming 169 itself; for it was in the height of these irregularities that Steele composed his “Christian Hero,” a moral and religious treatise, which the contritions of every morning dictated, and to which the disorders of every evening added another penitential page. Perhaps the genius of Steele was never so ardent and so pure as at this period; and in his elegant letter to his commander, the celebrated Lord Cutts, he gives an interesting account of the origin of this production, which none but one deeply imbued with its feelings could have so forcibly described.

Tower Guard, March 23, 1701.

My Lord,—The address of the following papers is so very much due to your lordship, that they are but a mere report of what has passed upon my guard to my commander; for they were writ upon duty, when the mind was perfectly disengaged, and at leisure, in the silent watch of the night, to run over the busy dream of the day; and the vigilance which obliges us to suppose an enemy always near us, has awakened a sense that there is a restless and subtle one which constantly attends our steps, and meditates our ruin.”[120]

To this solemn and monitory work he prefixed his name, from this honourable motive, that it might serve as “a standing testimony against himself, and make him ashamed of understanding, and seeming to feel what was virtuous, and living so quite contrary a life.” Do we not think that no one less than a saint is speaking to us? And yet he is still nothing more than Ensign Steele! He tells us that this grave work made him considered, who had been no undelightful companion, as a disagreeable fellow—and “The Christian Hero,” by his own words, appears to have fought off several fool-hardy geniuses who were for “trying their valour on him,” supposing a saint was necessarily a poltroon. Thus “The Christian Hero,” finding himself slighted by his loose companions, sat down and composed a most laughable comedy, “The Funeral;” and with all the frankness of a man who cares not to hide his motives, he tells us, that after his religious work he wrote the comedy because “nothing can make the town so fond of a man as a successful play.”[121] 170 The historian who had to record such strange events, following close on each other, as an author publishing a book of piety, and then a farce, could never have discovered the secret motive of the versatile writer, had not that writer possessed the most honest frankness.

Steele was now at once a man of the town and its censor, and wrote lively essays on the follies of the day in an enormous black peruke which cost him fifty guineas! He built an elegant villa, but, as he was always inculcating economy, he dates from “The Hovel.” He detected the fallacy of the South Sea scheme, while he himself invented projects, neither inferior in magnificence nor in misery. He even turned alchemist, and wanted to coin gold, merely to distribute it. The most striking incident in the life of this man of volition, was his sudden marriage with a young lady who attended his first wife’s funeral—struck by her angelical beauty, if we trust to his raptures. Yet this sage, who would have written so well on the choice of a wife, united himself to a character the most uncongenial to his own; cold, reserved, and most anxiously prudent in her attention to money, she was of a temper which every day grew worse by the perpetual imprudence and thoughtlessness of his own. He calls her “Prue” in fondness and reproach; she was Prudery itself! His adoration was permanent, and so were his complaints; and they never parted but with bickerings—yet he could not suffer her absence, for he was writing to her three or four passionate notes in a day, which are dated from his office, or his bookseller’s, or from some friend’s house—he has risen in the midst of dinner to despatch a line to “Prue,” to assure her of his affection since noon.[122]—Her presence or her absence was equally painful to him.


Yet Steele, gifted at all times with the susceptibility of genius, was exercising the finest feelings of the heart; the same generosity of temper which deluded his judgment, and invigorated his passions, rendered him a tender and pathetic dramatist; a most fertile essayist; a patriot without private views; an enemy whose resentment died away in raillery; and a friend, who could warmly press the hand that chastised him. Whether in administration, or expelled the House; whether affluent, or flying from his creditors; in the fulness of his heart he, perhaps, secured his own happiness, and lived on, like some wits, extempore. But such men, with all their virtues and all their genius, live only for themselves.

Steele, in the waste of his splendid talents, had raised sudden enmities and transient friendships. The world uses such men as Eastern travellers do fountains; they drink their waters, and when their thirst is appeased, turn their hacks on them. Steele lived to be forgotten. He opened his career with folly; he hurried through it in a tumult of existence; and he closed it by an involuntary exile, amid the wrecks of his fortune and his mind.

Steele, in one of his numerous periodical works, the twelfth number of the “Theatre,” has drawn an exquisite contrast 172 between himself and his friend Addison: it is a cabinet picture. Steele’s careful pieces, when warm with his subject, had a higher spirit, a richer flavour, than the equable softness of Addison, who is only beautiful.

“There never was a more strict friendship than between these gentlemen; nor had they ever any difference but what proceeded from their different way of pursuing the same thing: the one, with patience, foresight, and temperate address, always waited and stemmed the torrent; while the other often plunged himself into it, and was as often taken out by the temper of him who stood weeping on the bank for his safety, whom he could not dissuade from leaping into it. Thus these two men lived for some years last past, shunning each other, but still preserving the most passionate concern for their mutual welfare. But when they met, they were as unreserved as boys; and talked of the greatest affairs, upon which they saw where they differed, without pressing (what they knew impossible) to convert each other.”

If Steele had the honour of the invention of those periodical papers which first enlightened the national genius by their popular instruction, he is himself a remarkable example of the moral and the literary character perpetually contending in the man of volition.



This awful calamity may be traced in the fate of Leland and Collins: the one exhausted the finer faculties of his mind in the grandest views, and sunk under gigantic tasks; the other enthusiast sacrificed his reason and his happiness to his imagination.

Leland, the father of our antiquaries, was an accomplished scholar, and his ample mind had embraced the languages of antiquity, those of his own age, and the ancient ones of his own country: thus he held all human learning by its three vast chains. He travelled abroad; and he cultivated poetry with the ardour he could even feel for the acquisition of words. On his return home, among other royal favours, he was appointed by Henry VIII. the king’s antiquary, a title honourably created for Leland; for with him it became extinct. By this office he was empowered to search after 173 English antiquities; to review the libraries of all the religious institutions, and to bring the records of antiquity “out of deadly darkness into lively light.” This extensive power fed a passion already formed by the study of our old rude historians; his elegant taste perceived that they wanted those graces which he could lend them.

Six years were occupied, by uninterrupted travel and study, to survey our national antiquities; to note down everything observable for the history of the country and the honour of the nation. What a magnificent view has he sketched of this learned journey! In search of knowledge, Leland wandered on the sea-coasts and in the midland; surveyed towns and cities, and rivers, castles, cathedrals, and monasteries; tumuli, coins, and inscriptions; collected authors; transcribed MSS. If antiquarianism pored, genius too meditated in this sublime industry.

Another six years were devoted to shape and to polish the immense collections he had amassed. All this untired labour and continued study were rewarded by Henry VIII. It is delightful, from its rarity, to record the gratitude of a patron: Henry was worthy of Leland; and the genius of the author was magnificent as that of the monarch who had created it.

Nor was the gratitude of Leland silent: he seems to have been in the habit of perpetuating his spontaneous emotions in elegant Latin verse. Our author has fancifully expressed his gratitude to the king:—

“Sooner,” he says, “shall the seas float without their silent inhabitants; the thorny hedges cease to hide the birds; the oak to spread its boughs; and Flora to paint the meadows with flowers;”

Quàm Rex dive, tuum labatur pectore nostro
 Nomen, quod studiis portus et aura meis.

Than thou, great King, my bosom cease to hail,
Who o’er my studies breath’st a favouring gale.

Leland was, indeed, alive to the kindness of his royal patron; and among his numerous literary projects, was one of writing a history of all the palaces of Henry, in imitation of Procopius, who described those of the Emperor Justinian. He had already delighted the royal ear in a beautiful effusion of fancy and antiquarianism, in his Cygnea Cantio, the Song of the Swans. The swan of Leland, melodiously floating 174 down the Thames, from Oxford to Greenwich, chants, as she passes along, the ancient names and honours of the towns, the castles, and the villages.

Leland presented his “Strena, or a New Year’s Gift,” to the king.—It consists of an account of his studies; and sketches, with a fervid and vast imagination, his magnificent labour, which he had already inscribed with the title De Antiquitate Britannica, and which was to be divided into as many books as there were shires. All parts of this address of the King’s Antiquary to the king bear the stamp of his imagination and his taste. He opens his intention of improving, by the classical graces of composition, the rude labours of our ancestors; for,

“Except Truth be delicately clothed in purpure, her written verytees can scant find a reader.”

Our old writers, he tells his sovereign, had, indeed,

“From time to time preserved the acts of your predecessors, and the fortunes of your realm, with great diligence, and no less faith; would to God with like eloquence!”

An exclamation of fine taste, when taste was yet a stranger in the country. And when he alludes to the knowledge of British affairs scattered among the Roman, as well as our own writers, his fervid fancy breaks forth with an image at once simple and sublime:—

“I trust,” says Leland, “so to open the window, that the light shall be seen so long, that is to say, by the space of a whole thousand years stopped up, and the old glory of your Britain to re-flourish through the world.”[123]

And he pathetically concludes—

“Should I live to perform those things that are already begun, I trust that your realm shall so well be known, once painted with its native colours, that it shall give place to the glory of no other region.”

The grandeur of this design was a constituent part of the genius of Leland, but not less, too, was that presaging melancholy which even here betrays itself, and even more frequently in his verses. Everything about Leland was marked by his 175 own greatness; his country and his countrymen were ever present; and, by the excitement of his feelings, even his humbler pursuits were elevated into patriotism. Henry died the year after he received the “New Year’s Gift.” From that moment, in losing the greatest patron for the greatest work, Leland appears to have felt the staff which he had used to turn at pleasure for his stay, break in his hands.

He had new patrons to court, while engaged in labours for which a single life had been too short. The melancholy that cherishes genius may also destroy it. Leland, brooding over his voluminous labours, seemed to love and to dread them; sometimes to pursue them with rapture, and sometimes to shrink from them with despair. His generous temper had once shot forwards to posterity; but he now calms his struggling hopes and doubts, and confines his literary ambition to his own country and his own age.


Posteritatis amor mihi perblanditur, et ultro
 Premittit libris secula multa meis.
At non tam facile est oculato imponere, nosco
 Quàm non sim tali dignus honore frui.
Græcia magniloquos vates desiderat ipsa,
 Roma suos etiam disperiisse dolet.
Exemplis quum sim claris edoctus ab istis,
 Quî sperem Musas vivere posse meas?
Certè mî sat erit præsenti scribere sæclo,
 Auribus et patriæ complacuisse meæ.


Posterity, thy soothing love I feel,
That o’er my volumes many an age may steal:
But hard it is the well-clear’d eye to cheat
With honours undeserved, too fond deceit!
Greece, greatly eloquent, and full of fame,
Sighs for the want of many a perish’d name;
And Rome o’er her illustrious children mourns,
Their fame departing with their mouldering urns.
How can I hope, by such examples shown,
More than a transient day, a passing sun?
Enough for me to win the present age,
And please a brother with a brother’s page.

By other verses, addressed to Cranmer, it would appear that Leland was experiencing anxieties to which he had not been accustomed,—and one may suspect, by the opening image of his “Supellex,” that his pension was irregular, and that he began, as authors do in these hard cases, to value “the furniture” of his mind above that of his house.



Est congesta mihi domi Supellex
Ingens, aurea, nobilis, venusta,
Quâ totus studeo Britanniarum
Vero reddere gloriam nitori.
Sed Fortuna meis noverca cœptis
Jam felicibus invidet maligna.
Quare, ne pereant brevi vel horâ
Multarum mihi noctium labores
Omnes, et patriæ simul decora
Ornamenta cadant, &c. &c.


The furnitures that fill my house,
The vast and beautiful disclose,
All noble, and the store is gold;
Our ancient glory here unroll’d.
But fortune checks my daring claim,
A step-mother severe to fame.
A smile malignantly she throws
Just at the story’s prosperous close.
And thus must the unfinish’d tale,
And all my many vigils fail,
And must my country’s honour fall;
In one brief hour must perish all?

But, conscious of the greatness of his labours, he would obtain the favour of the Archbishop, by promising a share of his own fame—

——pretium sequetur amplum—
Sic nomen tibi litteræ elegantes
Rectè perpetuum dabunt, suosque
Partim vel titulos tibi receptos
Concedet memori Britannus ore:
Sic te posteritas amabit omnis,
Et famâ super æthera innotesces.


But take the ample glorious meed,
To letter’d elegance decreed,
When Britain’s mindful voice shall bend,
And with her own thy honours blend,
As she from thy kind hands receives
Her titles drawn on Glory’s leaves,
And back reflects them on thy name,
Till time shall love thy mounting fame.

Thus was Leland, like the melancholic, withdrawn entirely into the world of his own ideas; his imagination delighting in reveries, while his industry was exhausting itself in labour. His manners were not free from haughtiness,—his meagre 177 and expressive physiognomy indicates the melancholy and the majesty of his mind; it was not old age, but the premature wrinkles of those nightly labours he has himself recorded. All these characteristics are so strongly marked in the bust of Leland, that Lavater had triumphed had he studied it.[124]

Labour had been long felt as voluptuousness by Leland; and this is among the Calamities of Literature, and it is so with all those studies which deeply busy the intellect and the fancy. There is a poignant delight in study, often subversive of human happiness. Men of genius, from their ideal state, drop into the cold formalities of society, to encounter its evils, its disappointments, its neglect, and perhaps its persecutions. When such minds discover the world will only become a friend on its own terms, then the cup of their wrath overflows; the learned grow morose, and the witty sarcastic; but more indelible emotions in a highly-excited imagination often produce those delusions, which Darwin calls hallucinations, and which sometimes terminate in mania. The haughtiness, the melancholy, and the aspiring genius of Leland, were tending to a disordered intellect. Incipient insanity is a mote floating in the understanding, escaping all observation, when the mind is capable of observing itself, but seems a constituent part of the mind itself when that is completely covered with its cloud.

Leland did not reach even the maturity of life, the period at which his stupendous works were to be executed. He was seized by frenzy. The causes of his insanity were never known. The Papists declared he went mad because he had embraced the new religion; his malicious rival Polydore Vergil, because he had promised what he could not perform; duller prosaists because his poetical turn had made him conceited. The grief and melancholy of a fine genius, and perhaps an irregular pension, his enemies have not noticed.

The ruins of Leland’s mind were viewed in his library; volumes on volumes stupendously heaped together, and masses of notes scattered here and there; all the vestiges of his genius, and its distraction. His collections were seized on by honest and dishonest hands; many were treasured, but some were stolen. Hearne zealously arranged a series of volumes 178 from the fragments; but the “Britannia” of Camden, the “London” of Stowe, and the “Chronicles” of Holinshed, are only a few of those public works whose waters silently welled from the spring of Leland’s genius; and that nothing might be wanting to preserve some relic of that fine imagination which was always working in his poetic soul, his own description of his learned journey over the kingdom was a spark, which, falling into the inflammable mind of a poet, produced the singular and patriotic poem of the “Polyolbion” of Drayton. Thus the genius of Leland has come to us diffused through a variety of other men’s; and what he intended to produce it has required many to perform.

A singular inscription, in which Leland speaks of himself, in the style he was accustomed to use, and which Weever tells us was affixed to his monument, as he had heard by tradition, was probably a relic snatched from his general wreck—for it could not with propriety have been composed after his death.[125]

Quantùm Rhenano debet Germania docto
 Tantùm debebit terra Britanna mihi.
Ille suæ gentis ritus et nomina prisca
 Æstivo fecit lucidiora die.
Ipse antiquarum rerum quoque magnus amator
 Ornabo patriæ lumina clara meæ.
Quæ cum prodierint niveis inscripta tabellis,
 Tum testes nostræ sedulitatis erunt.


What Germany to learn’d Rhenanus owes,
That for my Britain shall my toil unclose;
His volumes mark their customs, names, and climes,
And brighten, with a summer’s light, old times.
I also, touch’d by the same love, will write,
To ornament my country’s splendid light,
Which shall, inscribed on snowy tablets, be
Full many a witness of my industry.

Another example of literary disappointment disordering the intellect may be contemplated in the fate of the poet Collins.

Several interesting incidents may be supplied to Johnson’s narrative of the short and obscure life of this poet, who, more than any other of our martyrs to the lyre, has thrown over all his images and his thoughts a tenderness of mind, and breathed a freshness over the pictures of poetry, which the mighty 179 Milton has not exceeded, and the laborious Gray has not attained. But he immolated happiness, and at length reason, to his imagination! The incidents most interesting in the life of Collins would be those events which elude the ordinary biographer; that invisible train of emotions which were gradually passing in his mind; those passions which first moulded his genius, and which afterwards broke it! But who could record the vacillations of a poetic temper, its early hope and its late despair, its wild gaiety and its settled frenzy, but the poet himself? Yet Collins has left behind no memorial of the wanderings of his alienated mind but the errors of his life!

At college he published his “Persian Eclogues,” as they were first called, to which, when he thought they were not distinctly Persian, he gave the more general title of “Oriental.” The publication was attended with no success; but the first misfortune a poet meets will rarely deter him from incurring more. He suddenly quitted the university, and has been censured for not having consulted his friends when he rashly resolved to live by the pen. But he had no friends! His father had died in embarrassed circumstances; and Collins was residing at the university on the stipend allowed him by his uncle, Colonel Martin, who was abroad. He was indignant at a repulse he met with at college; and alive to the name of author and poet, the ardent and simple youth imagined that a nobler field of action opened on him in the metropolis than was presented by the flat uniformity of a collegiate life. To whatever spot the youthful poet flies, that spot seems Parnassus, as applause seems patronage. He hurried to town, and presented himself before the cousin who paid his small allowance from his uncle in a fashionable dress with a feather in his hat. The graver gentleman did not succeed in his attempt at sending him back, with all the terror of his information, that Collins had not a single guinea of his own, and was dressed in a coat he could never pay for. The young bard turned from his obdurate cousin as “a dull fellow;” a usual phrase with him to describe those who did not think as he would have them.

That moment was now come, so much desired, and scarcely yet dreaded, which was to produce those effusions of fancy and learning, for which Collins had prepared himself by previous studies. About this time Johnson[126] has given a finer 180 picture of the intellectual powers and the literary attainments of Collins than in the life he afterwards composed. “Collins was acquainted not only with the learned tongues, but with the Italian, French, and Spanish languages; full of hopes and full of projects, versed in many languages, high in fancy, and strong in retention.” Such was the language of Johnson, when, warmed by his own imagination, he could write like Longinus; at that after-period, when assuming the austerity of critical discussion for the lives of poets, even in the coldness of his recollections, he describes Collins as “a man of extensive literature, and of vigorous faculties.”

A chasm of several years remains to be filled. He was projecting works of labour, and creating productions of taste; and he has been reproached for irresolution, and even for indolence. Let us catch his feelings from the facts as they rise together, and learn whether Collins must endure censure or excite sympathy.

When he was living loosely about town, he occasionally wrote many short poems in the house of a friend, who witnesses that he burned as rapidly as he composed. His odes were purchased by Millar, yet though but a slight pamphlet, all the interest of that great bookseller could never introduce them into notice. Not an idle compliment is recorded to have been sent to the poet. When we now consider that among these odes was one the most popular in the language, with some of the most exquisitely poetical, it reminds us of the difficulty a young writer without connexions experiences in obtaining the public ear; and of the languor of poetical connoisseurs who sometimes suffer poems, that have not yet grown up to authority, to be buried on the shelf. What the outraged feelings of the poet were, appeared when some time afterwards he became rich enough to express them. Having obtained some fortune by the death of his uncle, he made good to the publisher the deficiency of the unsold odes, and, in his haughty resentment at the public taste, consigned the impression to the flames!

Who shall now paint the feverish and delicate feelings of a young poet such as Collins, who had twice addressed the public, and twice had been repulsed? He whose poetic temper Johnson has finely painted, at the happy moment when he felt its influence, as “delighting to rove through the meadows of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, and repose by the waterfalls of Elysian gardens!”


It cannot be doubted, and the recorded facts will demonstrate it, that the poetical disappointments of Collins were secretly preying on his spirit, and repressing his firmest exertions. With a mind richly stored with literature, and a soul alive to the impulses of nature and study, he projected a “History of the Revival of Learning,” and a translation of “Aristotle’s Poetics,” to be illustrated by a large commentary.

But “his great fault,” says Johnson, “was his irresolution; or the frequent calls of immediate necessity broke his schemes, and suffered him to pursue no settled purpose.” Collins was, however, not idle, though without application; for, when reproached with idleness by a friend, he showed instantly several sheets of his version of Aristotle, and many embryos of some lives he had engaged to compose for the “Biographia Britannica;” he never brought either to perfection! What then was this irresolution but the vacillations of a mind broken and confounded? He had exercised too constantly the highest faculties of fiction, and he had precipitated himself into the dreariness of real life. None but a poet can conceive, for none but a poet can experience, the secret wounds inflicted on a mind of romantic fancy and tenderness of emotion, which has staked its happiness on its imagination; for such neglect is felt as ordinary men would feel the sensation of being let down into a sepulchre, and buried alive. The mind of Tasso, a brother in fancy to Collins, became disordered by the opposition of the critics, but perpetual neglect injures it not less. The Hope of the ancients was represented holding some flowers, the promise of the spring, or some spikes of corn, indicative of approaching harvest—but the Hope of Collins had scattered its seed, and they remained buried in the earth.

The oblivion which covered our poet’s works appeared to him eternal, as those works now seem to us immortal. He had created Hope with deep and enthusiastic feeling!—

With eyes so fair—

 Whispering promised pleasure,
And bade the lovely scenes at distance hail;
And Hope, enchanted, smiled, and waved her golden hair!

The few years Collins passed in the metropolis he was subsisting with or upon his friends; and, being a pleasing companion, he obtained many literary acquaintances. It was at this period that Johnson knew him, and thus describes 182 him:—“His appearance was decent, and his knowledge considerable; his views extensive, and his conversation elegant.” He was a constant frequenter at the literary resorts of the Bedford and Slaughter’s; and Armstrong, Hill, Garrick, and Foote, frequently consulted him on their pieces before they appeared in public. From his intimacy with Garrick he obtained a free admission into the green-room; and probably it was at this period, among his other projects, that he planned several tragedies, which, however, as Johnson observes, “he only planned.” There is a feature in Collins’s character which requires attention. He is represented as a man of cheerful dispositions; and it has been my study to detect only a melancholy, which was preying on the very source of life itself. Collins was, indeed, born to charm his friends; for fancy and elegance were never absent from his susceptible mind, rich in its stores, and versatile in its emotions. He himself indicates his own character, in his address to “Home:”—

Go! nor, regardless while these numbers boast
My short-lived bliss, forget my social name.

Johnson has told us of his cheerful dispositions; and one who knew him well observes, that “in the green-room he made diverting observations on the vanity and false consequence of that class of people, and his manner of relating them to his particular friends was extremely entertaining:” but the same friend acknowledges that “some letters which he received from Collins, though chiefly on business, have in them some flights which strongly mark his character, and for which reason I have preserved them.” We cannot decide of the temper of a man viewed only in a circle of friends, who listen to the ebullitions of wit or fancy; the social warmth for a moment throws into forgetfulness his secret sorrow. The most melancholy man is frequently the most delightful companion, and peculiarly endowed with the talent of satirical playfulness and vivacity of humour.[127] But what was 183 the true life of Collins, separated from its adventitious circumstances? It was a life of want, never chequered by hope, that was striving to elude its own observation by hurrying into some temporary dissipation. But the hours of melancholy and solitude were sure to return; these were marked on the dial of his life, and, when they struck, the gay and lively Collins, like one of his own enchanted beings, as surely relapsed into his natural shape. To the perpetual recollection of his poetical disappointments are we to attribute this unsettled state of his mind, and the perplexity of his studies. To these he was perpetually reverting, which he showed when after a lapse of several years, he could not rest till he had burned his ill-fated odes. And what was the result of his literary life? He returned to his native city of Chichester in a state almost of nakedness, destitute, diseased, and wild in despair, to hide himself in the arms of a sister.

The cloud had long been gathering over his convulsed intellect; and the fortune he acquired on the death of his uncle served only for personal indulgences, which rather accelerated his disorder. There were, at times, some awful pauses in the alienation of his mind—but he had withdrawn it from study. It was in one of these intervals that Thomas Warton told Johnson that when he met Collins travelling, he took up a book the poet carried with him, from curiosity, to see what companion a man of letters had chosen—it was an English Testament. “I have but one book,” said Collins, “but that is the best.” This circumstance is recorded on his tomb.

He join’d pure faith to strong poetic powers,
And in reviving reason’s lucid hours,
Sought on one book his troubled mind to rest,
And rightly deem’d the book of God the best.

At Chichester, tradition has preserved some striking and affecting occurrences of his last days; he would haunt the aisles and cloisters of the cathedral, roving days and nights together, loving their

Dim religious light.


And, when the choristers chanted their anthem, the listening and bewildered poet, carried out of himself by the solemn strains, and his own too susceptible imagination, moaned and shrieked, and awoke a sadness and a terror most affecting amid religious emotions; their friend, their kinsman, and their poet, was before them, an awful image of human misery and ruined genius!

This interesting circumstance is thus alluded to on his monument:—

Ye walls that echoed to his frantic moan,
Guard the due record of this grateful stone:
Strangers to him, enamour’d of his lays,
This fond memorial of his talents raise.

A voluntary subscription raised the monument to Collins. The genius of Flaxman has thrown out on the eloquent marble all that fancy would consecrate; the tomb is itself a poem.

There Collins is represented as sitting in a reclining posture, during a lucid interval of his afflicting malady, with a calm and benign aspect, as if seeking refuge from his misfortunes in the consolations of the Gospel, which lie open before him, whilst his lyre, and “The Ode on the Passions,” as a scroll, are thrown together neglected on the ground. Upon the pediment on the tablet are placed in relief two female figures of Love and Pity, entwined each in the arms of the other; the proper emblems of the genius of his poetry.

Langhorne, who gave an edition of Collins’s poems with all the fervour of a votary, made an observation not perfectly correct:—“It is observable,” he says, “that none of his poems bear the marks of an amorous disposition; and that he is one of those few poets who have sailed to Delphi without touching at Cythera. In the ‘Ode to the Passions,’ Love has been omitted.” There, indeed, Love does not form an important personage; yet, at the close, Love makes his transient appearance with Joy and Mirth—“a gay fantastic round.”

And, amidst his frolic play,
As if he would the charming air repay,
Shook thousand odours from his dewy wings.

It is certain, however, that Collins considered the amatory passion as unfriendly to poetic originality; for he alludes to the whole race of the Provençal poets, by accusing them of only employing

Love, only love, her forceless numbers mean.


Collins affected to slight the urchin; for he himself had been once in love, and his wit has preserved the history of his passion; he was attached to a young lady who was born the day before him, and who seems not to have been very poetically tempered, for she did not return his ardour. On that occasion he said “that he came into the world a day after the fair.”

Langhorne composed two sonnets, which seem only preserved in the “Monthly Review,” in which he was a writer, and where he probably inserted them; they bear a particular reference to the misfortunes of our poet. In one he represents Wisdom, in the form of Addison, reclining in “the old and honoured shade of Magdalen,” and thus addressing

The poor shade of Collins, wandering by;
The tear stood trembling in his gentle eye,
With modest grief reluctant, while he said—
“Sweet bard, belov’d by every muse in vain!
With pow’rs, whose fineness wrought their own decay;
Ah! wherefore, thoughtless, didst thou yield the rein
 To fancy’s will, and chase the meteor ray?
Ah! why forget thy own Hyblæan strain,
Peace rules the breast, where Reason rules the day.”

The last line is most happily applied; it is a verse by the unfortunate bard himself, which heightens the contrast with his forlorn state! Langhorne has feelingly painted the fatal indulgences of such a character as Collins.

Of fancy’s too prevailing power beware!
 Oft has she bright on life’s fair morning shone;
 Oft seated Hope on Reason’s sovereign throne,
Then closed the scene, in darkness and despair.
Of all her gifts, of all her powers possest,
 Let not her flattery win thy youthful ear,
Nor vow long faith to such a various guest,
 False at the last, tho’ now perchance full dear;
The casual lover with her charms is blest,
 But woe to them her magic bands that wear!

The criticism of Johnson on the poetry of Collins, that “as men are often esteemed who cannot be loved, so the poetry of Collins may sometimes extort praise when it gives little pleasure,” might almost have been furnished by the lumbering pen of old Dennis. But Collins from the poetical never extorts praise, for it is given spontaneously; he is much more loved than esteemed, for he does not give little pleasure. Johnson, too, describes his “lines as of slow 186 motion, clogged and impeded with clusters of consonants.” Even this verbal criticism, though it appeals to the eye, and not to the ear, is false criticism, since Collins is certainly the most musical of poets. How could that lyrist be harsh in his diction, who almost draws tears from our eyes, while his melodious lines and picturing epithets are remembered by his readers? He is devoured with as much enthusiasm by one party as he is imperfectly relished by the other.

Johnson has given two characters of this poet; the one composed at a period when that great critic was still susceptible of the seduction of the imagination; but even in this portrait, though some features of the poet are impressively drawn, the likeness is incomplete, for there is not even a slight indication of the chief feature in Collins’s genius, his tenderness and delicacy of emotion, and his fresh and picturesque creative strokes. Nature had denied to Johnson’s robust intellect the perception of these poetic qualities. He was but a stately ox in the fields of Parnassus, not the animal of nature. Many years afterwards, during his poetical biography, that long Lent of criticism, in which he mortified our poetical feeling by accommodating his to the populace of critics—so faint were former recollections, and so imperfect were even those feelings which once he seemed to have possessed—that he could then do nothing but write on Collins with much less warmth than he has written on Blackmore. Johnson is, indeed, the first of critics, when his powerful logic investigates objects submitted to reason; but great sense is not always combined with delicacy of taste; and there is in poetry a province which Aristotle himself may never have entered.


At a time when oriental studies were in their infancy in this country, Simon Ockley, animated by the illustrious example of Pococke and the laborious diligence of Prideaux, devoted his life and his fortune to these novel researches, which necessarily involved both. With that enthusiasm which the ancient votary experienced, and with that patient suffering the modern martyr has endured, he pursued, till he accomplished, the useful object of his labours. He, perhaps, was the first who exhibited to us other heroes than those of Rome 187 and Greece; sages as contemplative, and a people more magnificent even than the iron masters of the world. Among other oriental productions, his most considerable is “The History of the Saracens.” The first volume appeared in 1708, and the second ten years afterwards. In the preface to the last volume, the oriental student pathetically counts over his sorrows, and triumphs over his disappointments; the most remarkable part is the date of the place from whence this preface was written—he triumphantly closes his labours in the confinement of Cambridge Castle for debt!

Ockley, lamenting his small proficiency in the Persian studies, resolves to attain to them—

“How often have I endeavoured to perfect myself in that language, but my malignant and envious stars still frustrated my attempts; but they shall sooner alter their courses than extinguish my resolution of quenching that thirst which the little I have had of it hath already excited.”

And he states the deficiencies of his history with the most natural modesty—

“Had I not been forced to snatch everything that I have, as it were, out of the fire, our Saracen history should have been ushered into the world after a different manner.” He is fearful that something would be ascribed to his indolence or negligence, that “ought more justly to be attributed to the influence of inexorable necessity, could I have been master of my own time and circumstances.”

Shame on those pretended patrons who, appointing “a professor of the oriental languages,” counteract the purpose of the professorship by their utter neglect of the professor, whose stipend cannot keep him on the spot where only he ought to dwell. And Ockley complains also of that hypocritical curiosity which pretends to take an interest in things it cares little about; perpetually inquiring, as soon as a work is announced, when it is to come out. But these Pharisees of literature, who can only build sepulchres to ancient prophets, never believe in a living one. Some of these Ockley met with on the publication of his first volume: they run it down as the strangest story they had ever heard; they had never met with such folks as the Arabians! “A reverend dignitary asked me if, when I wrote that book, I had not lately been reading the history of Oliver Cromwell?” Such was the plaudit the oriental student received, and returned to grow pale over his MSS. But when Petis de la Croix, observes 188 Ockley, was pursuing the same track of study, in the patronage of Louis XIV., he found books, leisure, and encouragement; and when the great Colbert desired him to compose the life of Genkis Chan, he considered a period of ten years not too much to be allowed the author. And then Ockley proceeds—

“But my unhappy condition hath always been widely different from anything that could admit of such an exactness. Fortune seems only to have given me a taste of it out of spite, on purpose that I might regret the loss of it.”

He describes his two journeys to Oxford, for his first volume; but in his second, matters fared worse with him—

“Either my domestic affairs were grown much worse, or I less able to bear them; or what is more probable, both.”

Ingenuous confession! fruits of a life devoted in its struggles to important literature! and we murmur when genius is irritable, and erudition is morose! But let us proceed with Ockley:—

“I was forced to take the advantage of the slumber of my cares, that never slept when I was awake; and if they did not incessantly interrupt my studies, were sure to succeed them with no less constancy than night doth the day.”

This is the cry of agony. He who reads this without sympathy, ought to reject these volumes as the idlest he ever read, and honour me with his contempt. The close of Ockley’s preface shows a love-like tenderness for his studies; although he must quit life without bringing them to perfection, he opens his soul to posterity and tells them, in the language of prophecy, that if they will bestow encouragement on our youth, the misfortunes he has described will be remedied. He, indeed, was aware that these students—

“Will hardly come in upon the prospect of finding leisure, in a prison, to transcribe those papers for the press which they have collected with indefatigable labour, and oftentimes at the expense of their rest, and all the other conveniences of life, for the service of the public.”

Yet the exulting martyr of literature, at the moment he is fast bound to the stake, does not consider a prison so dreadful a reward for literary labours—

“I can assure them, from my own experience, that I have enjoyed more true liberty, more happy leisure, and more solid repose in six months here, than in thrice the same number of years before. Evil is the condition of that historian who 189 undertakes to write the lives of others before he knows how to live himself. Yet I have no just reason to be angry with the world; I never stood in need of its assistance in my life, but I found it always very liberal of its advice; for which I am so much the more beholden to it, by how much the more I did always in my judgment give the possession of wisdom the preference to that of riches.”[128]

Poor Ockley, always a student, and rarely what is called a man of the world, once encountered a literary calamity which frequently occurs when an author finds himself among the vapid triflers and the polished cynics of the fashionable circle. Something like a patron he found in Harley, the Earl of Oxford, and once had the unlucky honour of dining at the table of my Lord Treasurer. It is probable that Ockley, from retired habits and severe studies, was not at all accomplished in the suaviter in modo, of which greater geniuses than Ockley have so surlily despaired. How he behaved I cannot narrate: probably he delivered himself with as great simplicity at the table of the Lord Treasurer as on the wrong 190 side of Cambridge Castle gate. The embarrassment this simplicity drew him into is very fully stated in the following copious apology he addressed to the Earl of Oxford, which I have transcribed from the original; perhaps it may be a useful memorial to some men of letters as little polished as the learned Ockley:—

Cambridge, July 15, 1714.

My Lord,—I was so struck with horror and amazement two days ago, that I cannot possibly express it. A friend of mine showed me a letter, part of the contents of which were, ‘That Professor Ockley had given such extreme offence by some uncourtly answers to some gentlemen at my Lord Treasurer’s table that it would be in vain to make any further application to him.’

“My Lord, it is impossible for me to recollect, at this distance of time. All that I can say is this: that, as on the one side for a man to come to his patron’s table with a design to affront either him or his friends supposes him a perfect natural, a mere idiot; so on the other side it would be extreme severe, if a person whose education was far distant from the politeness of a court, should, upon the account of an unguarded expression, or some little inadvertency in his behaviour, suffer a capital sentence.

“Which is my case, if I have forfeited your Lordship’s favour; which God forbid! That man is involved in double ruin that is not only forsaken by his friend, but, which is the unavoidable consequence, exposed to the malice and contempt not only of enemies, but, what is still more grievous, of all sorts of fools.

“It is not the talent of every well-meaning man to converse with his superiors with due decorum; for, either when he reflects upon the vast distance of their station above his own, he is struck dumb and almost insensible; or else their condescension and courtly behaviour encourages him to be too familiar. To steer exactly between these two extremes requires not only a good intention, but presence of mind, and long custom.

“Another article in my friend’s letter was, ‘That somebody had informed your Lordship that I was a very sot.’ When first I had the honour to be known to your Lordship, I could easily foresee that there would be persons enough that would envy me upon that account, and do what in them lay 191 to traduce me. Let Haman enjoy never so much himself, it is all nothing, it does him no good, till poor Mordecai is hanged out of his way.

“But I never feared the being censured upon that account. Here in the University I converse with none but persons of the most distinguished reputations both for learning and virtue, and receive from them daily as great marks of respect and esteem, which I should not have if that imputation were true. It is most certain that I do indulge myself the freedom of drinking a cheerful cup, at proper seasons, among my friends; but no otherwise than is done by thousands of honest men, who never forfeit their character by it. And whoever doth no more than so, deserves no more to be called a sot, than a man that eats a hearty meal would be willing to be called a glutton.

“As for those detractors, if I have but the least assurance of your Lordship’s favour, I can very easily despise them. They are Nati consumere fruges. They need not trouble themselves about what other people do; for whatever they eat and drink, it is only robbing the poor. Resigning myself entirely to your Lordship’s goodness and pardon, I conclude this necessary apology with like provocation. That I would be content he should take my character from any person that had a good one of his own.

“I am, with all submission, My Lord,

“Your Lordship’s most obedient, &c.,

Simon Ockley.

To the honour of the Earl of Oxford, this unlucky piece of awkwardness at table, in giving “uncourtly answers,” did not interrupt his regard for the poor oriental student; for several years afterwards the correspondence of Ockley was still acceptable to the Earl.

If the letters of the widows and children of many of our eminent authors were collected, they would demonstrate the great fact, that the man who is a husband or a father ought not to be an author. They might weary with a monotonous cry, and usually would be dated from the gaol or the garret. I have seen an original letter from the widow of Ockley to the Earl of Oxford, in which she lays before him the deplorable situation of her affairs; the debts of the Professor being beyond what his effects amounted to, the severity of the creditors 192 would not even suffer the executor to make the best of his effects; the widow remained destitute of necessaries, incapable of assisting her children.[129]

Thus students have devoted their days to studies worthy of a student. They are public benefactors, yet find no friend in the public, who cannot yet appreciate their value—Ministers of State know it, though they have rarely protected them. Ockley, by letters I have seen, was frequently employed by Bolingbroke to translate letters from the Sovereign of Morocco to our court; yet all the debts for which he was imprisoned in Cambridge Castle did not exceed two hundred pounds. The public interest is concerned in stimulating such enthusiasts; they are men who cannot be salaried, who cannot be created by letters-patent; for they are men who infuse their soul into their studies, and breathe their fondness for them in their last agonies. Yet such are doomed to feel their life pass away like a painful dream!

Those who know the value of Lightfoot’s Hebraic studies, may be startled at the impediments which seem to have annihilated them. In the following effusion he confides his secret agitation to his friend Buxtorf: “A few years since I prepared a little commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in the same style and manner as I had done that on Matthew. But it laid by me two years or more, nor can I now publish it, but at my own charges, and to my great damage, which I felt enough and too much in the edition of my book upon Mark. Some progress I have made in the gospel of St. Luke, but I can print nothing but at my own cost: thereupon I wholly give myself to reading, scarce thinking of writing more; for booksellers and printers have dulled my edge, who will print no book, especially Latin, unless they have an assured and considerable gain.”

These writings and even the fragments have been justly 193 appreciated by posterity, and a recent edition of all Lightfoot’s works in many volumes have received honours which their despairing author never contemplated.


An author occupies a critical situation, for, while he is presenting the world with the result of his profound studies and his honest inquiries, it may prove pernicious to himself. By it he may incur the risk of offending the higher powers, and witnessing his own days embittered. Liable, by his moderation or his discoveries, by his scruples or his assertions, by his adherence to truth, or by the curiosity of his speculations, to be persecuted by two opposite parties, even when the accusations of the one necessarily nullify the other; such an author will be fortunate to be permitted to retire out of the circle of the bad passions; but he crushes in silence and voluntary obscurity all future efforts—and thus the nation loses a valued author.

This case is exemplified by the history of Dr. Cowel’s curious work “The Interpreter.” The book itself is a treasure of our antiquities, illustrating our national manners. The author was devoted to his studies, and the merits of his work recommended him to the Archbishop of Canterbury; in the Ecclesiastical Court he practised as a civilian, and became there eminent as a judge.[130]

Cowel gave his work with all the modesty of true learning; for who knows his deficiencies so well in the subject on which he has written as that author who knows most? It is delightful to listen to the simplicity and force with which an author in the reign of our first James opens himself without reserve.

“My true end is the advancement of knowledge; and 194 therefore have I published this poor work, not only to impart the good thereof to those young ones that want it, but also to draw from the learned the supply of my defects. Whosoever will charge these my travels [labours] with many oversights, he shall need no solemn pains to prove them. And upon the view taken of this book sithence the impression, I dare assure them that shall observe most faults therein, that I, by gleaning after him, will gather as many omitted by him, as he shall show committed by me. What a man saith well is not, however, to be rejected because he hath some errors; reprehend who will, in God’s name, that is, with sweetness and without reproach. So shall he reap hearty thanks at my hands, and thus more soundly help in a few months, than I, by tossing and tumbling my books at home, could possibly have done in many years.”

This extract discovers Cowel’s amiable character as an author. But he was not fated to receive “sweetness without reproach.”

Cowel encountered an unrelenting enemy in Sir Edward Coke, the famous Attorney-General of James I., the commentator of Littleton. As a man, his name ought to arouse our indignation, for his licentious tongue, his fierce brutality, and his cold and tasteless genius. He whose vileness could even ruffle the great spirit of Rawleigh, was the shameless persecutor of the learned Cowel.

Coke was the oracle of the common law, and Cowel of the civil; but Cowel practised at Westminster Hall as well as at Doctors’ Commons. Coke turned away with hatred from an advocate who, with the skill of a great lawyer, exerted all the courage. The Attorney-General sought every occasion to degrade him, and, with puerile derision, attempted to fasten on Dr. Cowel the nickname of Dr. Cowheel. Coke, after having written in his “Reports” whatever he could against our author, with no effect, started a new project. Coke well knew his master’s jealousy on the question of his prerogative; and he touched the King on that nerve. The Attorney-General suggested to James that Cowel had discussed “too nicely the mysteries of his monarchy, in some points derogatory to the supreme power of his crown; asserting that the royal prerogative was in some cases limited.” So subtly the serpent whispered to the feminine ear of a monarch, whom this vanity of royalty startled with all the fears of a woman. This suggestion had nearly occasioned the ruin of Cowel—it 195 verged on treason; and if the conspiracy of Coke now failed, it was through the mediation of the archbishop, who influenced the King; but it succeeded in alienating the royal favour from Cowel.

When Coke found he could not hang Cowel for treason, it was only a small disappointment, for he had hopes to secure his prey by involving him in felony. As physicians in desperate cases sometimes reverse their mode of treatment, so Coke now operated on an opposite principle. He procured a party in the Commons to declare that Cowel was a betrayer of the rights and liberties of the people; that he had asserted the King was independent of Parliament, and that it was a favour to admit the consent of his subjects in giving of subsidies, &c.; and, in a word, that he drew his arguments from the Roman Imperial Code, and would make the laws and customs of Rome and Constantinople those of London and York. Passages were wrested to Coke’s design. The prefacer of Cowel’s book very happily expresses himself when he says, “When a suspected book is brought to the torture, it often confesseth all, and more than it knows.”

The Commons proceeded criminally against Cowel; and it is said his life was required, had not the king interposed. The author was imprisoned, and the book was burnt.

On this occasion was issued “a proclamation touching Dr. Cowel’s book called ‘The Interpreter.’” It may be classed among the most curious documents of our literary history. I do not hesitate to consider this proclamation as the composition of James I.

I will preserve some passages from this proclamation, not merely for their majestic composition, which may still be admired, and the singularity of the ideas, which may still be applied—but for the literary event to which it gave birth in the appointment of a royal licenser for the press. Proclamations and burning of books are the strong efforts of a weak government, exciting rather than suppressing public attention.

“This later age and times of the world wherein we are fallen is so much given to verbal profession, as well of religion as of all commendable royal virtues, but wanting the actions and deeds agreeable to so specious a profession; as it hath bred such an unsatiable curiosity in many men’s spirits, and such an itching in the tongues and pens of most men, as nothing is left unsearched to the bottom both in talking and 196 writing. For from the very highest mysteries in the Godhead and the most inscrutable counsels in the Trinity, to the very lowest pit of hell and the confused actions of the devils there, there is nothing now unsearched into by the curiosity of men’s brains. Men, not being contented with the knowledge of so much of the will of God as it hath pleased him to reveal, but they will needs sit with him in his most private closet, and become privy of his most inscrutable counsels. And, therefore, it is no wonder that men in these our days do not spare to wade in all the deepest mysteries that belong to the persons or state of kings and princes, that are gods upon earth; since we see (as we have already said) that they spare not God himself. And this licence, which every talker or writer now assumeth to himself, is come to this abuse; that many Phormios will give counsel to Hannibal, and many men that never went of the compass of cloysters or colleges, will freely wade, by their writings, in the deepest mysteries of monarchy and politick government. Whereupon it cannot otherwise fall out but that when men go out of their element and meddle with things above their capacity, themselves shall not only go astray and stumble in darkness, but will mislead also divers others with themselves into many mistakings and errors; the proof whereof we have lately had by a book written by Dr. Cowel, called ‘The Interpreter.’”

The royal reviewer then in a summary way shows how Cowel had, “by meddling in matters beyond his reach, fallen into many things to mistake and deceive himself.” The book is therefore “prohibited; the buying, uttering, or reading it;” and those “who have any copies are to deliver the same presently upon this publication to the Mayor of London,” &c., and the proclamation concludes with instituting licensers of the press:—

“Because that there shall be better oversight of books of all sorts before they come to the press, we have resolved to make choice of commissioners, that shall look more narrowly into the nature of all those things that shall be put to the press, and from whom a more strict account shall be yielded unto us, than hath been used heretofore.”

What were the feelings of our injured author, whose integrity was so firm, and whose love of study was so warm, when he reaped for his reward the displeasure of his sovereign, and the indignation of his countrymen—accused at 197 once of contradictory crimes, he could not be a betrayer of the rights of the people, and at the same time limit the sovereign power. Cowel retreated to his college, and, like a wise man, abstained from the press; he pursued his private studies, while his inoffensive life was a comment on Coke’s inhumanity more honourable to Cowel than any of Coke’s on Littleton.

Thus Cowel saw, in his own life, its richest labour thrown aside; and when the author and his adversary were no more, it became a treasure valued by posterity! It was printed in the reign of Charles I., under the administration of Cromwell, and again after the Restoration. It received the honour of a foreign edition. Its value is still permanent. Such is the history of a book, which occasioned the disgrace of its author, and embittered his life.

A similar calamity was the fate of honest Stowe, the Chronicler. After a long life of labour, and having exhausted his patrimony in the study of English antiquities, from a reverential love to his country, poor Stowe was ridiculed, calumniated, neglected, and persecuted. One cannot read without indignation and pity what Howes, his continuator, tells us in his dedication. Howes had observed that—

“No man would lend a helping hand to the late aged painful Chronicler, nor, after his death, prosecute his work. He applied himself to several persons of dignity and learning, whose names had got forth among the public as likely to be the continuators of Stowe; but every one persisted in denying this, and some imagined that their secret enemies had mentioned their names with a view of injuring them, by incurring the displeasure of their superiors and risking their own quiet. One said, ‘I will not flatter, to scandalise my posterity;’ another, ‘I cannot see how a man should spend his labour and money worse than in that which acquires no regard nor reward except backbiting and detraction.’ One swore a great oath and said, ‘I thank God that I am not yet so mad to waste my time, spend two hundred pounds a-year, trouble myself and all my friends, only to give assurance of endless reproach, loss of liberty, and bring all my days in question.’”

Unhappy authors! are such then the terrors which silence eloquence, and such the dangers which environ truth? Posterity has many discoveries to make, or many deceptions to endure! But we are treading on hot embers.


Such too was the fate of Reginald Scot, who, in an elaborate and curious volume,[131] if he could not stop the torrent of the popular superstitions of witchcraft, was the first, at least, to break and scatter the waves. It is a work which forms an epoch in the history of the human mind in our country; but the author had anticipated a very remote period of its enlargement. Scot, the apostle of humanity, and the legislator of reason, lived in retirement, yet persecuted by religious credulity and legal cruelty.

Selden, perhaps the most learned of our antiquaries, was often led, in his curious investigations, to disturb his own peace, by giving the result of his inquiries. James I. and the Court party were willing enough to extol his profound authorities and reasonings on topics which did not interfere with their system of arbitrary power; but they harassed and persecuted the author whom they would at other times eagerly quote as their advocate. Selden, in his “History of Tithes,” had alarmed the clergy by the intricacy of his inquiries. He pretends, however, to have only collected the opposite opinions of others, without delivering his own. The book was not only suppressed, but the great author was further disgraced by subscribing a gross recantation of all his learned investigations—and was compelled to receive in silence the insults of Courtly scholars, who had the hardihood to accuse him of plagiarism, and other literary treasons, which more sensibly hurt Selden than the recantation extorted from his hand by “the Lords of the High Commission Court.” James I. would not suffer him to reply to them. When the king desired Selden to show the right of the British Crown to the dominion of the sea, this learned author having made proper collections, Selden, angried at an imprisonment he had undergone, refused to publish the work. A great author like Selden degrades himself when any personal feeling, in literary disputes, places him on an equality with any king; the duty was to his country.—But Selden, alive to the call of rival genius, when Grotius published, in Holland, his Mare 199 liberum, gave the world his Mare clausum; when Selden had to encounter Grotius, and to proclaim to the universe “the Sovereignty of the Seas,” how contemptible to him appeared the mean persecutions of a crowned head, and how little his own meaner resentment!

To this subject the fate of Dr. Hawkesworth is somewhat allied. It is well known that this author, having distinguished himself by his pleasing compositions in the “Adventurer,” was chosen to draw up the narrative of Cook’s discoveries in the South Seas. The pictures of a new world, the description of new manners in an original state of society, and the incidents arising from an adventure which could find no parallel in the annals of mankind, but under the solitary genius of Columbus—all these were conceived to offer a history, to which the moral and contemplative powers of Hawkesworth only were equal. Our author’s fate, and that of his work, are known: he incurred all the danger of giving the result of his inquiries; he indulged his imagination till it burst into pruriency, and discussed moral theorems till he ceased to be moral. The shock it gave to the feelings of our author was fatal; and the error of a mind, intent on inquiries which, perhaps, he thought innocent, and which the world condemned as criminal, terminated in death itself. Hawkesworth was a vain man, and proud of having raised himself by his literary talents from his native obscurity: of no learning, he drew all his science from the Cyclopædia; and, I have heard, could not always have construed the Latin mottos of his own paper, which were furnished by Johnson; but his sensibility was abundant—and ere his work was given to the world, he felt those tremblings and those doubts which anticipated his fate. That he was in a state of mental agony respecting the reception of his opinions, and some other parts of his work, will, I think, be discovered in the following letter, hitherto unpublished. It was addressed, with his MSS., to a peer, to be examined before they were sent to the press—an occupation probably rather too serious for the noble critic:—

London, March 2, 1761.

“I think myself happy to be permitted to put my MSS. into your Lordship’s hands, because, though it increases my anxiety and my fears, yet it will at least secure me from what I should think a far greater misfortune than any other that can attend my performance, the danger of addressing to 200 the King any sentiment, allusion, or opinion, that could make such an address improper. I have now the honour to submit the work to your Lordship, with the dedication; from which the duty I owe to his Majesty, and, if I may be permitted to add anything to that, the duty I owe to myself, have concurred to exclude the servile, extravagant, and indiscriminate adulation which has so often disgraced alike those by whom it has been given and received.

“I remain, &c. &c.”

This elegant epistle justly describes that delicacy in style which has been so rarely practised by an indiscriminate dedicator; and it not less feelingly touches on that “far greater misfortune than any other,” which finally overwhelmed the fortitude and intellect of this unhappy author!


The author who is now before us is De Lolme!

I shall consider as an English author that foreigner, who flew to our country as the asylum of Europe, who composed a noble work on our Constitution, and, having imbibed its spirit, acquired even the language of a free country.

I do not know an example in our literary history that so loudly accuses our tardy and phlegmatic feeling respecting authors, as the treatment De Lolme experienced in this country. His book on our Constitution still enters into the studies of an English patriot, and is not the worse for flattering and elevating the imagination, painting everything beautiful, to encourage our love as well as our reverence for the most perfect system of governments. It was a noble as well as ingenious effort in a foreigner—it claimed national attention—but could not obtain even individual patronage. The fact is mortifying to record, that the author who wanted every aid, received less encouragement than if he had solicited subscriptions for a raving novel, or an idle poem. De Lolme was compelled to traffic with booksellers for this work; and, as he was a theoretical rather than a practical politician, he was a bad trader, and acquired the smallest remuneration. He lived, in the country to which he had rendered a national service, in extreme obscurity and decay; and the walls of the Fleet too often enclosed the English Montesquieu. He never 201 appears to have received a solitary attention,[132] and became so disgusted with authorship, that he preferred silently to endure its poverty rather than its other vexations. He ceased almost to write. Of De Lolme I have heard little recorded but his high-mindedness; a strong sense that he stood degraded beneath that rank in society which his book entitled him to enjoy. The cloud of poverty that covered him only veiled without concealing its object; with the manners and dress of a decayed gentleman, he still showed the few who met him that he cherished a spirit perpetually at variance with the adversity of his circumstances.

Our author, in a narrative prefixed to his work, is the proud historian of his own injured feelings; he smiled in bitterness on his contemporaries, confident it was a tale reserved for posterity.

After having written the work whose systematic principles refuted those political notions which prevailed at the era of the American revolution,—and whose truth has been so fatally demonstrated in our own times, in two great revolutions, which have shown all the defects and all the mischief of nations rushing into a state of freedom before they are worthy of it,—the author candidly acknowledges he counted on some sort of encouragement, and little expected to find the mere publication had drawn him into great inconvenience.

“When my enlarged English edition was ready for the press, had I acquainted ministers that I was preparing to boil my tea-kettle with it, for want of being able to afford the expenses of printing it;” ministers, it seems, would not have considered that he was lighting his fire with “myrrh, and cassia, and precious ointment.”

In the want of encouragement from great men, and even from booksellers, De Lolme had recourse to a subscription; and his account of the manner he was received, and the indignities he endured, all which are narrated with great simplicity, show that whatever his knowledge of our Constitution might be, “his knowledge of the country was, at that time, very incomplete.” At length, when he shared the profits of his work with the booksellers, they were “but scanty and slow.” After all, our author sarcastically congratulates himself, that he—


“Was allowed to carry on the above business of selling my book, without any objection being formed against me, from my not having served a regular apprenticeship, and without being molested by the Inquisition.”

And further he adds—

“Several authors have chosen to relate, in writings published after death, the personal advantages by which their performances had been followed; as for me, I have thought otherwise—and I will see it printed while I am yet living.”

This, indeed, is the language of irritation! and De Lolme degrades himself in the loudness of his complaint. But if the philosopher lost his temper, that misfortune will not take away the dishonour of the occasion that produced it. The country’s shame is not lessened because the author who had raised its glory throughout Europe, and instructed the nation in its best lesson, grew indignant at the ingratitude of his pupil. De Lolme ought not to have congratulated himself that he had been allowed the liberty of the press unharassed by an inquisition: this sarcasm is senseless! or his book is a mere fiction!


Hume is an author so celebrated, a philosopher so serene, and a man so extremely amiable, if not fortunate, that we may be surprised to meet his name inscribed in a catalogue of literary calamities. Look into his literary life, and you will discover that the greater portion was mortified and angried; and that the stoic so lost his temper, that had not circumstances intervened which did not depend on himself, Hume had abandoned his country and changed his name!

“The first success of most of my writings was not such as to be an object of vanity.” His “Treatise of Human Nature” fell dead-born from the press. It was cast anew with another title, and was at first little more successful. The following letter to Des Maiseaux, which I believe is now first published, gives us the feelings of the youthful and modest philosopher:—

David Hume To Des Maiseaux.

Sir,—Whenever you see my name, you’ll readily imagine the subject of my letter. A young author can scarce forbear 203 speaking of his performance to all the world; but when he meets with one that is a good judge, and whose instruction and advice he depends on, there ought some indulgence to be given him. You were so good as to promise me, that if you could find leisure from your other occupations, you would look over my system of philosophy, and at the same time ask the opinion of such of your acquaintance as you thought proper judges. Have you found it sufficiently intelligible? Does it appear true to you? Do the style and language seem tolerable? These three questions comprehend everything; and I beg of you to answer them with the utmost freedom and sincerity. I know ’tis a custom to flatter poets on their performances, but I hope philosophers may be exempted; and the more so that their cases are by no means alike. When we do not approve of anything in a poet we commonly can give no reason for our dislikes but our particular taste; which not being convincing, we think it better to conceal our sentiments altogether. But every error in philosophy can be distinctly markt and proved to be such; and this is a favour I flatter myself you’ll indulge me in with regard to the performance I put into your hands. I am, indeed, afraid that it would be too great a trouble for you to mark all the errors you have observed; I shall only insist upon being informed of the most material of them, and you may assure yourself will consider it as a singular favour. I am, with great esteem

“Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant,

Aprile 6, 1739.

David Hume.

“Please direct to me at Ninewells, near Berwick-upon-Tweed.”

Hume’s own favourite “Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals” came unnoticed and unobserved in the world. When he published the first portion of his “History,” which made even Hume himself sanguine in his expectations, he tells his own tale:—

“I thought that I was the only historian that had at once neglected present power, interest, and authority, and the cry of popular prejudices; and, as the subject was suited to every capacity, I expected proportional applause. But miserable was my disappointment! All classes of men and readers united in their rage against him who had presumed to shed a generous tear for the fate of Charles I. and the Earl of 204 Strafford.” “What was still more mortifying, the book seemed to sink into oblivion, and in a twelvemonth not more than forty-five copies were sold.”

Even Hume, a stoic hitherto in his literary character, was struck down, and dismayed—he lost all courage to proceed—and, had the war not prevented him, “he had resolved to change his name, and never more to have returned to his native country.”

But an author, though born to suffer martyrdom, does not always expire; he may be flayed like St. Bartholomew, and yet he can breathe without a skin; stoned, like St. Stephen, and yet write on with a broken head; and he has been even known to survive the flames, notwithstanding the most precious part of an author, which is obviously his book, has been burnt in an auto da fe. Hume once more tried the press in “The Natural History of Religion.” It proved but another martyrdom! Still was the fall (as he terms it) of the first volume of his History haunting his nervous imagination, when he found himself yet strong enough to hold a pen in his hand, and ventured to produce a second, which “helped to buoy up its unfortunate brother.” But the third part, containing the reign of Elizabeth, was particularly obnoxious, and he was doubtful whether he was again to be led to the stake. But Hume, a little hardened by a little success, grew, to use his own words, “callous against the impressions of public folly,” and completed his History, which was now received “with tolerable, and but tolerable, success.”

At length, in the sixty-fifth year of his age, our author began, a year or two before he died, as he writes, to see “many symptoms of my literary reputation breaking out at last with additional lustre, though I know that I can have but few years to enjoy it.” What a provoking consolation for a philosopher, who, according to the result of his own system, was close upon a state of annihilation!

To Hume, let us add the illustrious name of Dryden.

It was after preparing a second edition of Virgil, that the great Dryden, who had lived, and was to die in harness, found himself still obliged to seek for daily bread. Scarcely relieved from one heavy task, he was compelled to hasten to another; and his efforts were now stimulated by a domestic feeling, the expected return of his son in ill-health from Rome. In a letter to his bookseller he pathetically writes—“If it please God that I must die of over-study, I cannot 205 spend my life better than in preserving his.” It was on this occasion, on the verge of his seventieth year, as he describes himself in the dedication of his Virgil, that, “worn out with study, and oppressed with fortune,” he contracted to supply the bookseller with 10,000 verses at sixpence a line!

What was his entire dramatic life but a series of vexation and hostility, from his first play to his last? On those very boards whence Dryden was to have derived the means of his existence and his fame, he saw his foibles aggravated, and his morals aspersed. Overwhelmed by the keen ridicule of Buckingham, and maliciously mortified by the triumph which Settle, his meanest rival, was allowed to obtain over him, and doomed still to encounter the cool malignant eye of Langbaine, who read poetry only to detect plagiarism. Contemporary genius is inspected with too much familiarity to be felt with reverence; and the angry prefaces of Dryden only excited the little revenge of the wits. How could such sympathise with injured, but with lofty feelings? They spread two reports of him, which may not be true, but which hurt him with the public. It was said that, being jealous of the success of Creech, for his version of Lucretius, he advised him to attempt Horace, in which Dryden knew he would fail—and a contemporary haunter of the theatre, in a curious letter[133] on The Winter Diversions, says of Congreve’s angry preface to the Double Dealer, that—

“The critics were severe upon this play, which gave the author occasion to lash them in his epistle dedicatory—so that ’tis generally thought he has done his business and lost himself; a thing he owes to Mr. Dryden’s treacherous friendship, who being jealous of the applause he had got by his Old Bachelor deluded him into a foolish imitation of his own way of writing angry prefaces.”

This lively critic is still more vivacious on the great Dryden, who had then produced his Love Triumphant, which, the critic says,

“Was damned by the universal cry of the town, nemine contradicente but the conceited poet. He says in his prologue that ‘this is the last the town must expect from him;’ he had done himself a kindness had he taken his leave before.” He then describes the success of Southerne’s Fatal Marriage, or the Innocent Adultery, and concludes, 206 “This kind usage will encourage desponding minor poets, and vex huffing Dryden and Congreve to madness.”

I have quoted thus much of this letter, that we may have before us a true image of those feelings which contemporaries entertain of the greater geniuses of their age; how they seek to level them; and in what manner men of genius are doomed to be treated—slighted, starved, and abused. Dryden and Congreve! the one the finest genius, the other the most exquisite wit of our nation, are to be vexed to madness!—their failures are not to excite sympathy, but contempt or ridicule! How the feelings and the language of contemporaries differ from that of posterity! And yet let us not exult in our purer and more dignified feelings—we are, indeed, the posterity of Dryden and Congreve; but we are the contemporaries of others who must patiently hope for better treatment from our sons than they have received from the fathers.

Dryden was no master of the pathetic, yet never were compositions more pathetic than the Prefaces this great man has transmitted to posterity! Opening all the feelings of his heart, we live among his domestic sorrows. Johnson censures Dryden for saying he has few thanks to pay his stars that he was born among Englishmen.[134] We have just seen that Hume went farther, and sighed to fly to a retreat beyond that country which knew not to reward genius.—What, if Dryden felt the dignity of that character he supported, dare we blame his frankness? If the age be ungenerous, shall contemporaries escape the scourge of the great author, who feels he is addressing another age more favourable to him?

Johnson, too, notices his “Self-commendation; his diligence in reminding the world of his merits, and expressing, with very little scruple, his high opinion of his own powers.” Dryden shall answer in his own words; with all the simplicity of Montaigne, he expresses himself with the dignity that would have become Milton or Gray:—

“It is a vanity common to all writers to overvalue their own productions; and it is better for me to own this failing in myself, than the world to do it for me. For what other 207 reason have I spent my life in such an unprofitable study? Why am I grown old in seeking so barren a reward as fame? The same parts and application which have made me a poet, might have raised me to any honours of the gown, which are often given to men of as little learning, and less honesty, than myself.”

How feelingly Whitehead paints the situation of Dryden in his old age:—

Yet lives the man, how wild soe’er his aim,
Would madly barter fortune’s smiles for fame?
Well pleas’d to shine, through each recording page,
The hapless Dryden of a shameless age!

 Ill-fated bard! where’er thy name appears,
The weeping verse a sad memento bears;
Ah! what avail’d the enormous blaze between
Thy dawn of glory and thy closing scene!
When sinking nature asks our kind repairs,
Unstrung the nerves, and silver’d o’er the hairs;
When stay’d reflection came uncall’d at last,
And gray experience counts each folly past!

Mickle’s version of the Lusiad offers an affecting instance of the melancholy fears which often accompany the progress of works of magnitude, undertaken by men of genius. Five years he had buried himself in a farm-house, devoted to the solitary labour; and he closes his preface with the fragment of a poem, whose stanzas have perpetuated all the tremblings and the emotions, whose unhappy influence the author had experienced through the long work. Thus pathetically he addresses the Muse:—

——Well thy meed repays thy worthless toil;
Upon thy houseless head pale want descends
In bitter shower; and taunting scorn still rends
And wakes thee trembling from thy golden dream:
In vetchy bed, or loathly dungeon ends
Thy idled life——

And when, at length, the great and anxious labour was completed, the author was still more unhappy than under the former influence of his foreboding terrors. The work is dedicated to the Duke of Buccleugh. Whether his Grace had been prejudiced against the poetical labour by Adam Smith, who had as little comprehension of the nature of poetry as becomes a political economist, or from whatever cause, after possessing it for six weeks the Duke had never condescended to open the volume. It is to the honour of Mickle that the 208 Dedication is a simple respectful inscription, in which the poet had not compromised his dignity,—and that in the second edition he had the magnanimity not to withdraw the dedication to this statue-like patron. Neither was the critical reception of this splendid labour of five devoted years grateful to the sensibility of the author: he writes to a friend—

“Though my work is well received at Oxford, I will honestly own to you, some things have hurt me. A few grammatical slips in the introduction have been mentioned; and some things in the notes about Virgil, Milton, and Homer, have been called the arrogance of criticism. But the greatest offence of all is, what I say of blank verse.”

He was, indeed, after this great work was given to the public, as unhappy as at any preceding period of his life; and Mickle, too, like Hume and Dryden, could feel a wish to forsake his native land! He still found his “head houseless;” and “the vetchy bed” and “loathly dungeon” still haunted his dreams. “To write for the booksellers is what I never will do,” exclaimed this man of genius, though struck by poverty. He projected an edition of his own poems by subscription.

“Desirous of giving an edition of my works, in which I shall bestow the utmost attention, which, perhaps, will be my final farewell to that blighted spot (worse than the most bleak mountains of Scotland) yclept Parnassus; after this labour is finished, if Governor Johnstone cannot or does not help me to a little independence, I will certainly bid adieu to Europe, to unhappy suspense, and perhaps also to the chagrin of soul which I feel to accompany it.”

Such was the language which cannot now be read without exciting our sympathy for the author of the version of an epic, which, after a solemn devotion of no small portion of the most valuable years of life, had been presented to the world, with not sufficient remuneration or notice of the author to create even hope in the sanguine temperament of a poet. Mickle was more honoured at Lisbon than in his own country. So imperceptible are the gradations of public favour to the feelings of genius, and so vast an interval separates that author who does not immediately address the tastes or the fashions of his age, from the reward or the enjoyment of his studies.

We cannot account, among the lesser calamities of literature, that of a man of genius, who, dedicating his days to the 209 composition of a voluminous and national work, when that labour is accomplished, finds, on its publication, the hope of fame, and perhaps other hopes as necessary to reward past toil, and open to future enterprise, all annihilated. Yet this work neglected or not relished, perhaps even the sport of witlings, afterwards is placed among the treasures of our language, when the author is no more! but what is posthumous gratitude, could it reach even the ear of an angel?

The calamity is unavoidable; but this circumstance does not lessen it. New works must for a time be submitted to popular favour; but posterity is the inheritance of genius. The man of genius, however, who has composed this great work, calculates his vigils, is best acquainted with its merits, and is not without an anticipation of the future feeling of his country; he

But weeps the more, because he weeps in vain.

Such is the fate which has awaited many great works; and the heart of genius has died away on its own labours. I need not go so far back as the Elizabethan age to illustrate a calamity which will excite the sympathy of every man of letters; but the great work of a man of no ordinary genius presents itself on this occasion.

This great work is “The Polyolbion” of Michael Drayton; a poem unrivalled for its magnitude and its character.[135] The genealogy of poetry is always suspicious; yet I think it owed its birth to Leland’s magnificent view of his intended work on Britain, and was probably nourished by the “Britannia” of Camden, who inherited the mighty industry, with out the poetical spirit, of Leland; Drayton embraced both. This singular combination of topographical erudition and poetical fancy constitutes a national work—a union that some may conceive not fortunate, no more than “the slow length” of its Alexandrine metre, for the purposes of mere delight. 210 Yet what theme can be more elevating than a bard chanting to his “Fatherland,” as the Hollanders called their country? Our tales of ancient glory, our worthies who must not die, our towns, our rivers, and our mountains, all glancing before the picturesque eye of the naturalist and the poet! It is, indeed, a labour of Hercules; but it was not unaccompanied by the lyre of Apollo.

This national work was ill received; and the great author dejected, never pardoned his contemporaries, and even lost his temper.[136] Drayton and his poetical friends beheld indignantly the trifles of the hour overpowering the neglected Polyolbion.

One poet tells us that

——————————they prefer
The fawning lines of every pamphleter.    

Geo. Withers.

And a contemporary records the utter neglect of this great poet:—

Why lives Drayton when the times refuse
Both means to live, and matter for a muse,
Only without excuse to leave us quite,
And tell us, durst we act, he durst to write?    

W. Browne.

Drayton published his Polyolbion first in eighteen parts; and the second portion afterwards. In this interval we have a letter to Drummond, dated in 1619:—

“I thank you, my dear sweet Drummond, for your good opinion of Polyolbion. I have done twelve books more, that is, from the 18th book, which was Kent (if you note it), all the east parts and north to the river of Tweed; but it lieth by me, for the booksellers and I are in terms; they are a company of base knaves, whom I scorn and kick at.”

The vengeance of the poet had been more justly wreaked on the buyers of books than on the sellers, who, though knavery has a strong connexion with trade, yet, were they knaves, they would be true to their own interests. Far from impeding a successful author, booksellers are apt to hurry his labours; for they prefer the crude to the mature fruit, whenever the public taste can be appeased even by an unripened dessert.


These “knaves,” however, seem to have succeeded in forcing poor Drayton to observe an abstinence from the press, which must have convulsed all the feelings of authorship. The second part was not published till three years after this letter was written; and then without maps. Its preface is remarkable enough; it is pathetic, till Drayton loses the dignity of genius in its asperity. In is inscribed, in no good humour—

To any that will read it!

“When I first undertook this poem, or, as some have pleased to term it, this Herculean labour, I was by some virtuous friends persuaded that I should receive much comfort and encouragement; and for these reasons: First, it was a new clear way, never before gone by any; that it contained all the delicacies, delights, and rarities of this renowned isle, interwoven with the histories of the Britons, Saxons, Normans, and the later English. And further, that there is scarcely any of the nobility or gentry of this land, but that he is some way or other interested therein.

“But it hath fallen out otherwise; for instead of that comfort which my noble friends proposed as my due, I have met with barbarous ignorance and base detraction; such a cloud hath the devil drawn over the world’s judgment. Some of the stationers that had the selling of the first part of this poem, because it went not so fast away in the selling as some of their beastly and abominable trash (a shame both to our language and our nation), have despightfully left out the epistles to the readers, and so have cousened the buyers with imperfected books, which those that have undertaken the second part have been forced to amend in the first, for the small number that are yet remaining in their hands.

“And some of our outlandish, unnatural English (I know not how otherwise to express them) stick not to say that there is nothing in this island worth studying for, and take a great pride to be ignorant in anything thereof. As for these cattle, odi profanum vulgus, et arceo; of which I account them, be they never so great.”

Yet, as a true poet, whose impulse, like fate, overturns all opposition, Drayton is not to be thrown out of his avocation; but intrepidly closes by promising “they shall not deter me from going on with Scotland, if means and time do not hinder me to perform as much as I have promised in my first song.” Who could have imagined that such bitterness of style, and 212 such angry emotions, could have been raised in the breast of a poet of pastoral elegance and fancy?

Whose bounding muse o’er ev’ry mountain rode,    
And every river warbled as it flow’d.


It is melancholy to reflect that some of the greatest works in our language have involved their authors in distress and anxiety: and that many have gone down to their grave insensible of that glory which soon covered it.


Who would, with the awful severity of Plato, banish poets from the Republic? But it may be desirable that the Republic should not be banished from poets, which it seems to be when an inordinate passion for writing verses drives them from every active pursuit. There is no greater enemy to domestic quiet than a confirmed versifier; yet are most of them much to be pitied: it is the mediocre critics they first meet with who are the real origin of a populace of mediocre poets. A young writer of verses is sure to get flattered by those who affect to admire what they do not even understand, and by those who, because they understand, imagine they are likewise endowed with delicacy of taste and a critical judgment. What sacrifices of social enjoyments, and all the business of life, are lavished with a prodigal’s ruin in an employment which will be usually discovered to be a source of early anxiety, and of late disappointment![137] I say nothing of the ridicule in which it involves some wretched Mævius, but of the misery that falls so heavily on him, and is often 213 entailed on his generation. Whitehead has versified an admirable reflection of Pope’s, in the preface to his works:—

For wanting wit be totally undone,
And barr’d all arts, for having fail’d in one?

The great mind of Blackstone never showed him more a poet than when he took, not without affection, “a farewell of the Muse,” on his being called to the bar. Drummond, of Hawthornden, quitted the bar from his love of poetry; yet he seems to have lamented slighting the profession which his father wished him to pursue. He perceives his error, he feels even contrition, but still cherishes it: no man, not in his senses, ever had a more lucid interval:—

I changed countries, new delights to find;
 But ah! for pleasure I did find new pain;
Enchanting pleasure so did reason blind,
 That father’s love and words I scorn’d as vain.
I know that all the Muses’ heavenly lays,
 With toil of spirit which are so dearly bought,
 As idle sounds of few or none are sought,
That there is nothing lighter than vain praise;
 Know what I list, this all cannot me move,
 But that, alas! I both must write and love!

Thus, like all poets, who, as Goldsmith observes, “are fond of enjoying the present, careless of the future,” he talks like a man of sense, and acts like a fool.

This wonderful susceptibility of praise, to which poets seem more liable than any other class of authors, is indeed their common food; and they could not keep life in them without this nourishment. Nat. Lee, a true poet in all the excesses of poetical feelings—for he was in such raptures at times as to lose his senses—expresses himself in very energetic language on the effects of the praise necessary for poets:—

“Praise,” says Lee, “is the greatest encouragement we chamelions can pretend to, or rather the manna that keeps soul and body together; we devour it as if it were angels’ food, and vainly think we grow immortal. There is nothing transports a poet, next to love, like commending in the right place.”

This, no doubt, is a rare enjoyment, and serves to strengthen his illusions. But the same fervid genius elsewhere confesses, when reproached for his ungoverned fancy, that it brings with itself its own punishment:—


“I cannot be,” says this great and unfortunate poet, “so ridiculous a creature to any man as I am to myself; for who should know the house so well as the good man at home? who, when his neighbour comes to see him, still sets the best rooms to view; and, if he be not a wilful ass, keeps the rubbish and lumber in some dark hole, where nobody comes but himself, to mortify at melancholy hours.”

Study the admirable preface of Pope, composed at that matured period of life when the fever of fame had passed away, and experience had corrected fancy. It is a calm statement between authors and readers; there is no imagination that colours by a single metaphor, or conceals the real feeling which moved the author on that solemn occasion, of collecting his works for the last time. It is on a full review of the past that this great poet delivers this remarkable sentence:—

I believe, if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of AUTHORS, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration. The life of a wit is a warfare upon earth; and to pretend to serve the learned world in any way, one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its sake.”

All this is so true in literary history, that he who affects to suspect the sincerity of Pope’s declaration, may flatter his sagacity, but will do no credit to his knowledge.

If thus great poets pour their lamentations for having devoted themselves to their art, some sympathy is due to the querulousness of a numerous race of provincial bards, whose situation is ever at variance with their feelings. These usually form exaggerated conceptions of their own genius, from the habit of comparing themselves with their contracted circle. Restless, with a desire of poetical celebrity, their heated imagination views in the metropolis that fame and fortune denied them in their native town; there they become half-hermits and half-philosophers, darting epigrams which provoke hatred, or pouring elegies, descriptive of their feelings, which move derision: their neighbours find it much easier to ascertain their foibles than comprehend their genius; and both parties live in a state of mutual persecution. Such, among many, was the fate of the poet Herrick; his vein was pastoral, and he lived in the elysium of the west, which, however, he describes by the sullen epithet, “Dull Devonshire,” where “he is still sad.” Strange that 215 such a poet should have resided near twenty years in one of our most beautiful counties in a very discontented humour. When he quitted his village of “Deanbourne,” the petulant poet left behind him a severe “farewell,” which was found still preserved in the parish, after a lapse of more than a century. Local satire has been often preserved by the very objects it is directed against, sometimes from the charm of the wit itself, and sometimes from the covert malice of attacking our neighbours. Thus he addresses “Deanbourne, a rude river in Devonshire, by which, sometime, he lived:”—

Dean-bourn, farewell!
Thy rockie bottom that doth tear thy streams,
And makes them frantic, e’en to all extremes.
Rockie thou art, and rockie we discover
Thy men,—
O men! O manners!—
O people currish, churlish as their seas—

He rejoices he leaves them, never to return till “rocks shall turn to rivers.” When he arrives in London,

From the dull confines of the drooping west,
To see the day-spring from the pregnant east,

he, “ravished in spirit,” exclaims, on a view of the metropolis—

O place! O people! manners form’d to please
All nations, customs, kindreds, languages!

But he fervently entreats not to be banished again:—

For, rather than I’ll to the west return,
I’ll beg of thee first, here to have mine urn.

The Devonians were avenged; for the satirist of the English Arcadia was condemned again to reside by “its rockie side,” among “its rockie men.”

Such has been the usual chant of provincial poets; and, if the “silky-soft Favonian gales” of Devon, with its “Worthies,” could not escape the anger of such a poet as Herrick, what county may hope to be saved from the invective of querulous and dissatisfied poets?

In this calamity of authors I will show that a great poet felicitated himself that poetry was not the business of his life; and afterwards I will bring forward an evidence that the immoderate pursuit of poetry, with a very moderate 216 genius, creates a perpetual state of illusion; and pursues grey-headed folly even to the verge of the grave.

Pope imagined that Prior was only fit to make verses, and less qualified for business than Addison himself. Had Prior lived to finish that history of his own times he was writing, we should have seen how far the opinion of Pope was right. Prior abandoned the Whigs, who had been his first patrons, for the Tories, who were now willing to adopt the political apostate. This versatility for place and pension rather shows that Prior was a little more “qualified for business than Addison.”

Johnson tells us “Prior lived at a time when the rage of party detected all which was any man’s interest to hide; and, as little ill is heard of Prior, it is certain that not much was known:” more, however, than Johnson supposes. This great man came to the pleasing task of his poetical biography totally unprepared, except with the maturity of his genius, as a profound observer of men, and an invincible dogmatist in taste. In the history of the times, Johnson is deficient, which has deprived us of that permanent instruction and delight his intellectual powers had poured around it. The character and the secret history of Prior are laid open in the “State Poems;”[138] a bitter Whiggish narrative, too particular to be entirely fictitious, while it throws a new light on Johnson’s observation of Prior’s “propensity to sordid converse, and the low delights of mean company,” which Johnson had imperfectly learned from some attendant on Prior.

A vintner’s boy, the wretch was first preferr’d
To wait at Vice’s gates, and pimp for bread;
To hold the candle, and sometimes the door,
Let in the drunkard, and let out——.
But, as to villains it has often chanc’d,
Was for his wit and wickedness advanc’d.
Let no man think his new behaviour strange,
No metamorphosis can nature change;
Effects are chain’d to causes; generally,
The rascal born will like a rascal die.
 His Prince’s favours follow’d him in vain;
They chang’d the circumstance, but not the man.
While out of pocket, and his spirits low,
He’d beg, write panegyrics, cringe, and bow;
But when good pensions had his labours crown’d,
His panegyrics into satires turn’d; 217
O what assiduous pains does Prior take
To let great Dorset see he could mistake!
Dissembling nature false description gave,
Show’d him the poet, but conceal’d the knave.

To us the poet Prior is better known than the placeman Prior; yet in his own day the reverse often occurred. Prior was a State Proteus; Sunderland, the most ambiguous of politicians, was the Erle Robert to whom he addressed his Mice; and Prior was now Secretary to the Embassy at Ryswick and Paris; independent even of the English ambassador—now a Lord of Trade, and, at length, a Minister Plenipotentiary to Louis XIV.

Our business is with his poetical feelings.

Prior declares he was chiefly “a poet by accident;” and hints, in collecting his works, that “some of them, as they came singly from the first impression, have lain long and quietly in Mr. Tonson’s shop.” When his party had their downfall, and he was confined two years in prison, he composed his “Alma,” to while away prison hours; and when, at length, he obtained his freedom, he had nothing remaining but that fellowship which, in his exaltation, he had been censured for retaining, but which he then said he might have to live upon at last. Prior had great sagacity, and too right a notion of human affairs in politics, to expect his party would last his time, or in poetry, that he could ever derive a revenue from rhymes!

I will now show that that rare personage, a sensible poet, in reviewing his life in that hour of solitude when no passion is retained but truth, while we are casting up the amount of our past days scrupulously to ourselves, felicitated himself that the natural bent of his mind, which inclined to poetry, had been checked, and not indulged, throughout his whole life. Prior congratulated himself that he had been only “a poet by accident,” not by occupation.

In a manuscript by Prior, consisting of “An Essay on Learning,” I find this curious and interesting passage entirely relating to the poet himself:—

“I remember nothing farther in life than that I made verses; I chose Guy Earl of Warwick for my first hero, and killed Colborne the giant before I was big enough for Westminster School. But I had two accidents in youth which hindered me from being quite possessed with the Muse. I was bred in a college where prose was more in fashion than 218 verse,—and, as soon as I had taken my first degree, I was sent the King’s Secretary to the Hague; there I had enough to do in studying French and Dutch, and altering my Terentian and Virgilian style into that of Articles and Conventions; so that poetry, which by the bent of my mind might have become the business of my life, was, by the happiness of my education, only the amusement of it; and in this, too, having the prospect of some little fortune to be made, and friendships to be cultivated with the great men, I did not launch much into satire, which, however agreeable for the present to the writers and encouragers of it, does in time do neither of them good; considering the uncertainty of fortune, and the various changes of Ministry, and that every man, as he resents, may punish in his turn of greatness and power.”

Such is the wholesome counsel of the Solomon of Bards to an aspirant, who, in his ardour for poetical honours, becomes careless of their consequences, if he can but possess them.

I have now to bring forward one of those unhappy men of rhyme, who, after many painful struggles, and a long querulous life, have died amid the ravings of their immortality—one of those miserable bards of mediocrity whom no beadle-critic could ever whip out of the poetical parish.

There is a case in Mr. Haslam’s “Observations on Insanity,” who assures us that the patient he describes was insane, which will appear strange to those who have watched more poets than lunatics!

“This patient, when admitted, was very noisy, and importunately talkative—reciting passages from the Greek and Roman poets, or talking of his own literary importance. He became so troublesome to the other madmen, who were sufficiently occupied with their own speculations, that they avoided and excluded him from the common room; so that he was at last reduced to the mortifying situation of being the sole auditor of his own compositions. He conceived himself very nearly related to Anacreon, and possessed of the peculiar vein of that poet.”

Such is the very accurate case drawn up by a medical writer. I can conceive nothing in it to warrant the charge of insanity; Mr. Haslam, not being a poet, seems to have mistaken the common orgasm of poetry for insanity itself.

Of such poets, one was the late Percival Stockdale, who, with the most entertaining simplicity, has, in “The 219 Memoirs of his Life and Writings,” presented us with a full-length figure of this class of poets; those whom the perpetual pursuits of poetry, however indifferent, involve in a perpetual illusion; they are only discovered in their profound obscurity by the piteous cries they sometimes utter; they live on querulously, which is an evil for themselves, and to no purpose of life, which is an evil to others.

I remember in my youth Percival Stockdale as a condemned poet of the times, of whom the bookseller Flexney complained that, whenever this poet came to town, it cost him twenty pounds. Flexney had been the publisher of Churchill’s works; and, never forgetting the time when he published “The Rosciad,” which at first did not sell, and afterwards became the most popular poem, he was speculating all his life for another Churchill, and another quarto poem. Stockdale usually brought him what he wanted—and Flexney found the workman, but never the work.

Many a year had passed in silence, and Stockdale could hardly be considered alive, when, to the amazement of some curious observers of our literature, a venerable man, about his eightieth year, a vivacious spectre, with a cheerful voice, seemed as if throwing aside his shroud in gaiety—to come to assure us of the immortality of one of the worst poets of the time.

To have taken this portrait from the life would have been difficult; but the artist has painted himself, and manufactured his own colours; else had our ordinary ones but faintly copied this Chinese grotesque picture—the glare and the glow must be borrowed from his own palette.

Our self-biographer announces his “Life” with prospective rapture, at the moment he is turning a sad retrospect on his “Writings;” for this was the chequered countenance of his character, a smile while he was writing, a tear when he had published! “I know,” he exclaims, “that this book will live and escape the havoc that has been made of my literary fame.” Again—“Before I die, I think my literary fame may be fixed on an adamantine foundation.” Our old acquaintance, Blas of Santillane, at setting out on his travels, conceived himself to be la huitième merveille du monde; but here is one, who, after the experience of a long life, is writing a large work to prove himself that very curious thing.

What were these mighty and unknown works? Stockdale confesses that all his verses have been received with 220 negligence or contempt; yet their mediocrity, the absolute poverty of his genius, never once occurred to the poetical patriarch.

I have said that the frequent origin of bad poets is owing to bad critics; and it was the early friends of Stockdale, who, mistaking his animal spirits for genius, by directing them into the walks of poetry, bewildered him for ever. It was their hand that heedlessly fixed the bias in the rolling bowl of his restless mind.

He tells us that while yet a boy of twelve years old, one day talking with his father at Branxton, where the battle of Flodden was fought, the old gentleman said to him with great emphasis—

“You may make that place remarkable for your birth, if you take care of yourself. My father’s understanding was clear and strong, and he could penetrate human nature. He already saw that I had natural advantages above those of common men.”

But it seems that, at some earlier period even than his twelfth year, some good-natured Pythian had predicted that Stockdale would be “a poet.” This ambiguous oracle was still listened to, after a lapse of more than half a century, and the decree is still repeated with fond credulity:—“Notwithstanding,” he exclaims, “all that is past, O thou god of my mind! (meaning the aforesaid Pythian) I still hope that my future fame will decidedly warrant the prediction!”

Stockdale had, in truth, an excessive sensibility of temper, without any control over it—he had all the nervous contortions of the Sybil, without her inspiration; and shifting, in his many-shaped life, through all characters and all pursuits, “exalting the olive of Minerva with the grape of Bacchus,” as he phrases it, he was a lover, a tutor, a recruiting officer, a reviewer, and, at length, a clergyman; but a poet eternally! His mind was so curved, that nothing could stand steadily upon it. The accidents of such a life he describes with such a face of rueful simplicity, and mixes up so much grave drollery and merry pathos with all he says or does, and his ubiquity is so wonderful, that he gives an idea of a character, of whose existence we had previously no conception, that of a sentimental harlequin.[139]


In the early part of his life, Stockdale undertook many poetical pilgrimages; he visited the house where Thomson was born; the coffee-room where Dryden presided among the wits, &c. Recollecting the influence of these local associations, he breaks forth, “Neither the unrelenting coldness, nor the repeated insolence of mankind, can prevent me from thinking that something like this enthusiastic devotion may hereafter be paid to ME.”

Perhaps till this appeared it might not be suspected that any unlucky writer of verse could ever feel such a magical conviction of his poetical stability. Stockdale, to assist this pilgrimage to his various shrines, has particularised all the spots where his works were composed! Posterity has many shrines to visit, and will be glad to know (for perhaps it may excite a smile) that “‘The Philosopher,’ a poem, was written in Warwick Court, Holborn, in 1769,”—“‘The Life of Waller,’ in Round Court, in the Strand.”—A good deal he wrote in “May’s Buildings, St. Martin’s Lane,” &c., but

“In my lodgings at Portsmouth, in St. Mary’s Street, I wrote my ‘Elegy on the Death of a Lady’s Linnet.’ It will not be uninteresting to sensibility, to thinking and elegant minds. It deeply interested me, and therefore produced not one of my weakest and worst written poems. It was directly opposite to a noted house, which was distinguished by the name of the green rails; where the riotous orgies of Naxos and Cythera contrasted with my quiet and purer occupations.”

I would not, however, take his own estimate of his own poems; because, after praising them outrageously, he seems at times to doubt if they are as exquisite as he thinks them! He has composed no one in which some poetical excellence does not appear—and yet in each nice decision he holds with difficulty the trepidations of the scales of criticism—for he tells us of “An Address to the Supreme Being,” that “it is distinguished throughout with a natural and fervid piety; it is flowing and poetical; it is not without its pathos.” And yet, notwithstanding all this condiment, the confection is evidently good for nothing; for he discovers that “this flowing, fervid, and poetical address” is “not animated with that vigour which gives dignity and impression to poetry.” 222 One feels for such unhappy and infected authors—they would think of themselves as they wish at the moment that truth and experience come in upon them and rack them with the most painful feelings.

Stockdale once wrote a declamatory life of Waller. When Johnson’s appeared, though in his biography, says Stockdale, “he paid a large tribute to the abilities of Goldsmith and Hawkesworth, yet he made no mention of my name.” It is evident that Johnson, who knew him well, did not care to remember it. When Johnson was busied on the Life of Pope, Stockdale wrote a pathetic letter to him earnestly imploring “a generous tribute from his authority.” Johnson was still obdurately silent; and Stockdale, who had received many acts of humane kindness from him, adds with fretful naïveté,

“In his sentiments towards me he was divided between a benevolence to my interests, and a coldness to my fame.”

Thus, in a moment, in the perverted heart of the scribbler, will ever be cancelled all human obligation for acts of benevolence, if we are cold to his fame!

And yet let us not too hastily condemn these unhappy men, even for the violation of the lesser moral feelings—it is often but a fatal effect from a melancholy cause; that hallucination of the intellect, in which, if their genius, as they call it, sometimes appears to sparkle like a painted bubble in the buoyancy of their vanity, they are also condemned to see it sinking in the dark horrors of a disappointed author, who has risked his life and his happiness on the miserable productions of his pen. The agonies of a disappointed author cannot, indeed, be contemplated without pain. If they can instruct, the following quotation will have its use.

Among the innumerable productions of Stockdale, was a “History of Gibraltar,” which might have been interesting, from his having resided there: in a moment of despair, like Medea, he immolated his unfortunate offspring.

“When I had arrived at within a day’s work of its conclusion, in consequence of some immediate and mortifying accidents, my literary adversity, and all my other misfortunes, took fast hold of my mind; oppressed it extremely; and reduced it to a stage of the deepest dejection and despondency. In this unhappy view of life, I made a sudden resolution—never more to prosecute the profession of an author; to retire altogether from the world, and read only for consolation and amusement. I committed to the flames my History of Gibraltar 223 and my translation of Marsollier’s Life of Cardinal Ximenes; for which the bookseller had refused to pay me the fifty guineas, according to agreement.”

This claims a tear! Never were the agonies of literary disappointment more pathetically told.

But as it is impossible to have known poor deluded Stockdale, and not to have laughed at him more than to have wept for him—so the catastrophe of this author’s literary life is as finely in character as all the acts. That catastrophe, of course, is his last poem.

After many years his poetical demon having been chained from the world, suddenly broke forth on the reports of a French invasion. The narrative shall proceed in his own inimitable manner.

“My poetical spirit excited me to write my poem of ‘The Invincible Island.’ I never found myself in a happier disposition to compose, nor ever wrote with more pleasure. I presumed warmly to hope that unless inveterate prejudice and malice were as invincible as our island itself, it would have the diffusive circulation which I earnestly desired.

“Flushed with this idea—borne impetuously along by ambition and by hope, though they had often deluded me, I set off in the mail-coach from Durham for London, on the 9th of December, 1797, at midnight, and in a severe storm. On my arrival in town my poem was advertised, printed, and published with great expedition. It was printed for Clarke in New Bond-street. For several days the sale was very promising; and my bookseller as well as myself entertained sanguine hopes; but the demand for the poem relaxed gradually! From this last of many literary misfortunes, I inferred that prejudice and malignity, in my fate as an author, seemed, indeed, to be invincible.”

The catastrophe of the poet is much better told than anything in the poem, which had not merit enough to support that interest which the temporary subject had excited.

Let the fate of Stockdale instruct some, and he will not have written in vain the “Memoirs of his Life and Writings.” I have only turned the literary feature to our eye; it was combined with others, equally striking, from the same mould in which that was cast. Stockdale imagined he possessed an intuitive knowledge of human nature. He says, “everything that constituted my nature, my acquirements, my habits, and my fortune, conspired to let in upon me a complete knowledge 224 of human nature.” A most striking proof of this knowledge is his parallel, after the manner of Plutarch, between Charles XII. and himself! He frankly confesses there were some points in which he and the Swedish monarch did not exactly resemble each other. He thinks, for instance, that the King of Sweden had a somewhat more fervid and original genius than himself, and was likewise a little more robust in his person—but, subjoins Stockdale,

“Of our reciprocal fortune, achievements, and conduct, some parts will be to his advantage, and some to mine.”

Yet in regard to Fame, the main object between him and Charles XII., Stockdale imagined that his own

“Will not probably take its fixed and immoveable station, and shine with its expanded and permanent splendour, till it consecrates his ashes, till it illumines his tomb!”

Pope hesitated at deciding on the durability of his poetry. Prior congratulates himself that he had not devoted all his days to rhymes. Stockdale imagines his fame is to commence at the very point (the tomb) where genius trembles its own may nearly terminate!

To close this article, I could wish to regale the poetical Stockdales with a delectable morsel of fraternal biography; such would be the life, and its memorable close, of Elkanah Settle, who imagined himself to be a great poet, when he was placed on a level with Dryden by the town-wits, (gentle spirits!) to vex genius.

Settle’s play of The Empress of Morocco was the very first “adorned with sculptures.”[140] However, in due time, the 225 Whigs despising his rhymes, Settle tried his prose for the Tories; but he was a magician whose enchantments never charmed. He at length obtained the office of the city poet, when lord mayors were proud enough to have laureates in their annual pageants.

When Elkanah Settle published any party poem, he sent copies round to the chiefs of the party, accompanied with addresses, to extort pecuniary presents. He had latterly one standard Elegy and Epithalamium printed off with blanks, which, by the ingenious contrivance of filling up with the names of any considerable person who died or was married, no one who was going out of life or entering it could pass scot-free from the tax levied by his hacknied muse. The following letter accompanied his presentation copy to the Duke of Somerset, of a poem, in Latin and English, on the Hanover succession, when Elkanah wrote for the Whigs, as he had for the Tories:—

Sir,—Nothing but the greatness of the subject could encourage my presumption in laying the enclosed Essay at your Grace’s feet, being, with all profound humility, your Grace’s most dutiful servant,

E. Settle.

In the latter part of his life Settle dropped still lower, and became the poet of a booth at Bartholomew Fair, and composed drolls, for which the rival of Dryden, it seems, had a genius!—but it was little respected—for two great personages, “Mrs. Mynns and her daughter, Mrs. Leigh,” approving of their great poet’s happy invention in one of his own drolls, “St. George for England,” of a green dragon, as large as life, insisted, as the tyrant of old did to the inventor of the brazen bull, that the first experiment should be made on the artist himself, and Settle was tried in his own dragon; he crept in with all his genius, and did “act the dragon, enclosed in a case of green leather of his own invention.” The circumstance is recorded in the lively verse of Young, in his “Epistle to Pope concerning the authors of the age.”

Poor Elkanah, all other changes past,
For bread in Smithfield dragons hiss’d at last,
Spit streams of fire to make the butchers gape,
And found his manners suited to his shape;
Such is the fate of talents misapplied,
So lived your prototype, and so he died.





“The use and end of this Work I do not so much design for curiosity, or satisfaction of those that are the lovers of learning, but chiefly for a more grave and serious purpose: which is, that it will make learned men wise in the use and administration of learning.”—Lord Bacon, “Of Learning.”



The Quarrels of Authors may be considered as a continuation of the Calamities of Authors; and both, as some Memoirs for Literary History.

These Quarrels of Authors are not designed to wound the Literary Character, but to expose the secret arts of calumny, the malignity of witty ridicule, and the evil prepossessions of unjust hatreds.

The present, like the preceding work, includes other subjects than the one indicated by the title, and indeed they are both subservient to a higher purpose—that of our Literary History.

There is a French work, entitled “Querelles Littéraires,” quoted in “Curiosities of Literature,” many years ago. Whether I derive the idea of the present from the French source I cannot tell. I could point out a passage in the great Lord Bacon which might have afforded the hint. But I am inclined to think that what induced me to select this topic was the interest which Johnson has given to the literary quarrels between Dryden and Settle, Dennis and Addison, &c.; and which Sir Walter Scott, who, amid the fresh creations of fancy, could delve for the buried truths of research, has thrown into his narrative of the quarrel of Dryden and Luke Milbourne.

From the French work I could derive no aid; and my plan is my own. I have fixed on each literary controversy to illustrate some principle, to portray some character, and to investigate some topic. Almost every controversy which occurred opened new views. With the subject, the character 230 of the author connected itself; and with the character were associated those events of his life which reciprocally act on each other. I have always considered an author as a human being, who possesses at once two sorts of lives, the intellectual and the vulgar: in his books we trace the history of his mind, and in his actions those of human nature. It is this combination which interests the philosopher and the man of feeling; which provides the richest materials for reflection; and all those original details which spring from the constituent principles of man. Johnson’s passion for literary history, and his great knowledge of the human heart, inspired at once the first and the finest model in this class of composition.

The Philosophy of Literary History was indeed the creation of Bayle. He was the first who, by attempting a critical dictionary, taught us to think, and to be curious and vast in our researches. He ennobled a collection of facts by his reasonings, and exhibited them with the most miscellaneous illustrations; and thus conducting an apparently humble pursuit with a higher spirit, he gave a new turn to our studies. It was felt through Europe; and many celebrated authors studied and repeated Bayle. This father of a numerous race has an English as well as a French progeny.

Johnson wrote under many disadvantages; but, with scanty means, he has taught us a great end. Dr. Birch was the contemporary of Johnson. He excelled his predecessors; and yet he forms a striking contrast as a literary historian. Birch was no philosopher, and I adduce him as an instance how a writer, possessing the most ample knowledge, and the most vigilant curiosity—one practised in all the secret arts of literary research in public repositories and in private collections, and eminently skilled in the whole science of bibliography—may yet fail with the public. The diligence of Birch has perpetuated his memory by a monument of MSS., but his, touch was mortal to genius! He palsied the character 231 which could never die; heroes sunk pusillanimously under his hand; and in his torpid silence, even Milton seemed suddenly deprived of his genius.

I have freely enlarged in the notes to this work; a practice which is objectionable to many, but indispensable perhaps in this species of literary history.

The late Mr. Cumberland, in a conversation I once held with him on this subject, triumphantly exclaimed, “You will not find a single note through the whole volume of my ‘Life.’ I never wrote a note. The ancients never wrote notes; but they introduced into their text all which was proper for the reader to know.”

I agreed with that elegant writer, that a fine piece of essay-writing, such as his own “Life,” required notes no more than his novels and his comedies, among which it may be classed. I observed that the ancients had no literary history; this was the result of the discovery of printing, the institution of national libraries, the general literary intercourse of Europe, and some other causes which are the growth almost of our own times. The ancients have written history without producing authorities.

Mr. Cumberland was then occupied on a review of Fox’s History; and of Clarendon, which lay open before him,—he had been complaining, with all the irritable feelings of a dramatist, of the frequent suspensions, and the tedious minuteness of his story.

I observed that notes had not then been discovered. Had Lord Clarendon known their use, he had preserved the unity of design in his text. His Lordship has unskilfully filled it with all that historical furniture his diligence had collected, and with those minute discussions which his anxiety for truth, and his lawyer-like mode of scrutinising into facts and substantiating evidence, amassed. Had these been cast into notes, and were it now possible to pass them over in the present text, how would the story of the noble historian clear up! 232 The greatness of his genius will appear when disencumbered of its unwieldy and misplaced accompaniments.

If this observation be just, it will apply with greater force to literary history itself, which, being often the mere history of the human mind, has to record opinions as well as events—to discuss as well as to narrate—to show how accepted truths become suspicious—or to confirm what has hitherto rested in obscure uncertainty, and to balance contending opinions and opposite facts with critical nicety. The multiplied means of our knowledge now opened to us, have only rendered our curiosity more urgent in its claims, and raised up the most diversified objects. These, though accessories to the leading one of our inquiries, can never melt together in the continuity of a text. It is to prevent all this disorder, and to enjoy all the usefulness and the pleasure of this various knowledge, which has produced the invention of notes in literary history. All this forms a sort of knowledge peculiar to the present more enlarged state of literature. Writers who delight in curious and rare extracts, and in the discovery of new facts and new views of things, warmed by a fervour of research which brings everything nearer to our eye and close to our touch, study to throw contemporary feelings in their page. Such rare extracts and such new facts Bayle eagerly sought, and they delighted Johnson; but all this luxury of literature can only be produced to the public eye in the variegated forms of notes.




The name of Warburton more familiar to us than his Works—declared to be “a Colossus” by a Warburtonian, who afterwards shrinks the image into “a human size”—Lowth’s caustic retort on his Attorneyship—motives for the change to Divinity—his first literary mischances—Warburton and his Welsh Prophet—his Dedications—his mean flatteries—his taste more struck by the monstrous than the beautiful—the effects of his opposite studies—the Secret Principle which conducted Warburton through all his Works—the curious argument of his Alliance between Church and State—the bold paradox of his Divine Legation—the demonstration ends in a conjecture—Warburton lost in the labyrinth he had ingeniously constructed—confesses the harassed state of his mind—attacked by Infidels and Christians—his Secret Principle turns the poetical narrative of Æneas into the Eleusinian Mysteries—Hurd attacks Jortin; his Attic irony translated into plain English—Warburton’s paradox on Eloquence; his levity of ideas renders his sincerity suspected—Leland refutes the whimsical paradox—Hurd attacks Leland—Leland’s noble triumph—Warburton’s Secret Principle operating in Modern Literature: on Pope’s Essay on Man—Lord Bolingbroke the author of the Essay—Pope received Warburton as his tutelary genius—Warburton’s systematic treatment of his friends and rival editors—his literary artifices and little intrigues—his Shakspeare—the whimsical labours of Warburton on Shakspeare annihilated by Edwards’s “Canons of Criticism”—Warburton and Johnson—Edwards and Warburton’s mutual attacks—the concealed motive of his edition of Shakspeare avowed in his justification—his Secret Principle further displayed in Pope’s Works—attacks Akenside; Dyson’s generous defence—correct Ridicule is a test of Truth, illustrated by a well-known case—Warburton a literary revolutionist; aimed to be a perpetual dictator—the ambiguous tendency of his speculations—the Warburtonian School supported by the most licentious principles—specimens of its peculiar style—the use to which Warburton applied the Dunciad—his party: attentive to raise recruits—the active and subtle Hurd—his extreme sycophancy—Warburton, to maintain his usurped authority, adopted his system of literary quarrels.

The name of Warburton is more familiar to us than his works: thus was it early,[141] thus it continues, and thus it will 234 be with posterity! The cause may be worth our inquiry. Nor is there, in the whole compass of our literary history, a character more instructive for its greatness and its failures; none more adapted to excite our curiosity, and which can more completely gratify it.

Of great characters, whose actions are well known, and of those who, whatever claim they may have to distinction, are not so, Aristotle has delivered a precept with his accustomed sagacity. If Achilles, says the Stagirite, be the subject of our inquiries, since all know what he has done, we are simply to indicate his actions, without stopping to detail; but this would not serve for Critias; for whatever relates to him must be fully told, since he is known to few;[142]—a critical precept, which ought to be frequently applied in the composition of this work.

The history of Warburton is now well known; the facts lie dispersed in the chronological biographer;[143] but the secret connexion which exists between them, if there shall be found to be any, has not yet been brought out; and it is my business to press these together; hence to demonstrate principles, or to deduce inferences.

The literary fame of Warburton was a portentous meteor: it seemed unconnected with the whole planetary system through which it rolled, and it was imagined to be darting amid new creations, as the tail of each hypothesis blazed with idle fancies.[144] Such extraordinary natures cannot be looked on with calm admiration, nor common hostility; all is the tumult of wonder about such a man; and his adversaries, as well as his friends, though differently affected, are often overcome by the same astonishment.

To a Warburtonian, the object of his worship looks indeed of colossal magnitude, in the glare thrown about that hallowed 235 spot; nor is the divinity of common stature; but the light which makes him appear so great, must not be suffered to conceal from us the real standard by which only his greatness can be determined:[145] even literary enthusiasm, delightful to all generous tempers, may be too prodigal of its splendours, wasting itself while it shines; but truth remains behind! Truth, which, like the asbestos, is still unconsumed and unaltered amidst these glowing fires.

The genius of Warburton has called forth two remarkable 236 anonymous criticisms—in one, all that the most splendid eloquence can bring to bear against this chief and his adherents;[146] and in the other, all that taste, warmed by a spark of Warburtonian fire, can discriminate in an impartial decision.[147] Mine is a colder and less grateful task. I am but a historian! I have to creep along in the darkness of human events, to lay my hand cautiously on truths so difficult to touch, and which either the panegyrist or the writer of an invective cover over, and throw aside into corners.


Much of the moral, and something too of the physical dispositions of the man enter into the literary character; and, moreover, there are localities—the place where he resides, the circumstances which arise, and the habits he contracts; to all these the excellences and the defects of some of our great literary characters may often be traced. With this clue we may thread our way through the labyrinth of Genius.

Warburton long resided in an obscure provincial town, the articled clerk of a country attorney,[148] and then an unsuccessful 238 practising one. He seems, too, once to have figured as “a wine-merchant in the Borough,” and rose into notice as “the orator of a disputing club;” but, in all his shapes, still keen in literary pursuits, without literary connexions; struggling with all the defects of a desultory and self-taught education, but of a bold aspiring character, he rejected, either in pride or in despair, his little trades, and took Deacon’s orders—to exchange a profession, unfavourable to continuity of study, for another more propitious to its indulgence.[149] In 239 a word, he set off as a literary adventurer, who was to win his way by earning it from patronage.

His first mischances were not of a nature to call forth that intrepidity which afterwards hardened into the leading feature of his character. Few great authors have begun their 240 race with less auspicious omens, though an extraordinary event in the life of an author happened to Warburton—he had secured a patron before he was an author.

The first publication of his which we know, was his “Translations in Prose and Verse from Roman Poets, Orators, and Historians.” 1724. He was then about twenty-five years of age. The fine forms of classic beauty could never be cast in so rough a mould as his prose; and his turgid unmusical verses betrayed qualities of mind incompatible with the delicacy of poetry. Four years afterwards he repeated another bolder attempt, in his “Critical and Philosophical Inquiry into the Causes of Prodigies and Miracles.” After this publication, I wonder Warburton was ever suspected of infidelity or even scepticism.[150] So radically deficient in Warburton 241 was that fine internal feeling which we call taste, that through his early writings he acquired not one solitary charm of diction,[151] and scarcely betrayed, amid his impurity of taste, that nerve and spirit which afterwards crushed all rival force. His translations in imitation of Milton’s style betray his utter want of ear and imagination. He attempted to suppress both these works during his lifetime.

When these unlucky productions were republished by Dr. Parr, the Dedications were not forgotten; they were both addressed to the same opulent baronet, not omitting “the virtues” of his lady the Countess of Sunderland, whose marriage he calls “so divine a union.” Warburton had shown no want of judgment in the choice of his patrons; for they had more than one living in their gift—and perhaps, knowing his patrons, none in the dedications themselves. They had, however, this absurdity, that in freely exposing the servile practices of dedicators, the writer was himself indulging in that luxurious sin, which he so forcibly terms “Public Prostitution.” This early management betrays no equivocal symptoms of that traffic in Dedications, of which he has been 242 so severely accused,[152] and of that paradoxical turn and hardy effrontery which distinguished his after-life. These dedications led to preferment, and thus hardily was laid the foundation-stone of his aspiring fortunes.


Till his thirtieth year, Warburton evinced a depraved taste, but a craving appetite for knowledge. His mind was constituted to be more struck by the Monstrous than the Beautiful, much like that Sicilian prince who furnished his villa with the most hideous figures imaginable:[153] the delight resulting from harmonious and delicate forms raised emotions of too weak a nature to move his obliquity of taste; roused, however, by the surprise excited by colossal ugliness. The discovery of his intellectual tastes, at this obscure period of his life, besides in those works we have noticed, is confirmed by one of the most untoward accidents which ever happened to a literary man; it was the chance-discovery of a letter he had written to one of the heroes of the Dunciad, forty years before. 244 At the time that letter was written, his literary connexions were formed with second-rate authors; he was in strict intimacy with Concanen and Theobald, and other “ingenious gentlemen who made up our last night’s conversation,” as he expresses himself.[154] This letter is full of the heresies of taste: one of the most anomalous is the comment on that well-known passage in Shakspeare, on “the genius and the mortal instruments;” Warburton’s is a miraculous specimen of fantastical sagacity and critical delirium, or the art of discovering meanings never meant, and of illustrations the author could never have known. Warburton declares to “the ingenious gentlemen,” (whom afterwards with a Pharaoh’s heart he hanged by dozens to posterity in the “Dunciad,”) that “Pope borrowed for want of genius;” that poet, who, when the day arrived, he was to comment on as the first of poets! His insulting criticisms on the popular writings of Addison,—his contempt for what Young calls “sweet elegant Virgilian prose,”—show how utterly insensible he was to that classical taste in which Addison had constructed his materials. But he who could not taste the delicacy of Addison, it may be imagined might be in raptures with the rant of Lee. There is an unerring principle in the false sublime: it seems to be governed by laws, though they 245 are not ours; and we know what it will like, that is, we know what it will mistake for what ought not to be liked, as surely as we can anticipate what will delight correct taste. Warburton has pronounced one of the raving passages of poor Nat “to contain not only the most sublime, but the most judicious imagery that poetry could conceive or paint.” Joseph Warton, who indignantly rejects it from his edition of Pope, asserts that “we have not in our language a more striking example of true turgid expression, and genuine fustian and bombast.”[155] Yet such was the man whom ill-fortune (for the public at least) had chosen to become the commentator of our greater poets! Again Churchill throws light on our character:—

He, with an all-sufficient air
Places himself in the critic’s chair,
And wrote, to advance his Maker’s praise,
Comments on rhymes, and notes on plays—
A judge of genius, though, confest,
With not one spark of genius blest:
Among the first of critics placed,
Though free from every taint of taste.

Not encouraged by the reception his first literary efforts received, but having obtained some preferment from his patron, we now come to a critical point in his life. He retreated from the world, and, during a seclusion of near twenty years, persevered in uninterrupted studies. The force of his character placed him in the first order of thinking beings. This resolution no more to court the world for literary favours, but to command it by hardy preparation for mighty labours, displays a noble retention of the appetite for fame; Warburton scorned to be a scribbler!

Had this great man journalised his readings, as Gibbon has 246 done, we should perhaps be more astonished at his miscellaneous pursuits. He read everything, and, I suspect, with little distinction, and equal delight.[156] Curiosity, even to its delirium, was his first passion; which produced those new systems of hypothetical reasoning by which he startled the world; and his efforts to save his most ingenious theories from absurdity resembled, to use his own emphatic words applied to the philosophy of Leibnitz, “a contrivance against Fatalism,” for though his genius has given a value to the wildest paradoxes, paradoxes they remain.


But if Warburton read so much, it was not to enforce opinions already furnished to his hands, or with cold scepticism to reject them, leaving the reader in despair. He read that he might write what no one else had written, and which at least required to be refuted before it was condemned. He hit upon a SECRET PRINCIPLE, which prevails through all his works, and this was Invention; a talent, indeed, somewhat dangerous to introduce in researches where Truth, and not Fancy, was to be addressed. But even with all this originality he was not free from imitation, and has even been accused of borrowing largely without hinting at his obligations. He had certainly one favourite model before him: Warburton has delineated the portrait of a certain author with inimitable minuteness, while he caught its general effect; we feel that the artist, in tracing the resemblance of another, is inspired by all the flattery of a self-painter—he perceived the kindred features, and he loved them!

This author was Bayle! And I am unfolding the character of Warburton, in copying the very original portrait:—

“Mr. Bayle is of a quite different character from these Italian sophists: a writer, whose strength and clearness of reasoning can be equalled only by the gaiety, easiness, and delicacy of his wit; who, pervading human nature with a glance, struck into the province of Paradox, as an exercise for the restless vigour of his mind: who, with a soul superior to the sharpest attacks of fortune, and a heart practised to the best philosophy, had not yet enough of real greatness to overcome that last foible of superior geniuses, the temptation of honour, which the Academic Exercise of Wit is conceived to bring to its professors.”[157]

Here, then, we discover the SECRET PRINCIPLE which conducted Warburton through all his works, although of the most opposite natures. I do not give this as an opinion to be discussed, but as a fact to be demonstrated.

The faculties so eminent in Bayle were equally so in Warburton. In his early studies he had particularly applied himself to logic; and was not only a vigorous reasoner, but 248 one practised in all the finesse of dialectics. He had wit, fertile indeed, rather than delicate; and a vast body of erudition, collected in the uninterrupted studies of twenty years. But it was the SECRET PRINCIPLE, or, as he calls it, “the Academic exercise of Wit,” on an enlarged system, which carried him so far in the new world of Invention he was creating.

This was a new characteristic of investigation; it led him on to pursue his profounder inquiries beyond the clouds of antiquity; for what he could not discover, he CONJECTURED and ASSERTED. Objects, which in the hands of other men were merely matters resting on authentic researches, now received the stamp and lustre of original invention. Nothing was to be seen in the state in which others had viewed it; the hardiest paradoxes served his purpose best, and this licentious principle produced unlooked-for discoveries. He humoured his taste, always wild and unchastised, in search of the monstrous and the extravagant; and, being a wit, he delighted in finding resemblances in objects which to more regulated minds had no similarity whatever. Wit may exercise its ingenuity as much in combining things unconnected with each other, as in its odd assemblage of ideas; and Warburton, as a literary antiquary, proved to be as witty in his combinations as Butler and Congreve in their comic images. As this principle took full possession of the mind of this man of genius, the practice became so familiar, that it is possible he might at times have been credulous enough to have confided in his own reveries. As he forcibly expressed himself on one of his adversaries, Dr. Stebbing, “Thus it is to have to do with a head whose sense is all run to system.” “His Academic Wit” now sported amid whimsical theories, pursued bold but inconclusive arguments, marked out subtile distinctions, and discovered incongruous resemblances; but they were maintained by an imposing air of conviction, furnished with the most prodigal erudition, and they struck out many ingenious combinations. The importance or the curiosity of the topics awed or delighted his readers; the principle, however licentious, by the surprise it raised, seduced the lovers of novelties. Father Hardouin had studied as hard as Warburton, rose as early, and retired to rest as late, and the obliquity of his intellect resembled that of Warburton—but he was a far inferior genius; he only discovered that the classical works of antiquity, the finest compositions 249 of the human mind, in ages of its utmost refinement, had been composed by the droning monks of the middle ages; a discovery which only surprised by its tasteless absurdity—but the absurdities of Warburton had more dignity, were more delightful, and more dangerous: they existed, as it were, in a state of illusion, but illusion which required as much genius and learning as his own to dissipate. His spells were to be disturbed only by a magician, great as himself. Conducted by this solitary principle, Warburton undertook, as it were, a magical voyage into antiquity. He passed over the ocean of time, sailing amid rocks, and half lost on quicksands; but he never failed to raise up some terra incognita; or point at some scene of the Fata Morgana, some earthly spot, painted in the heaven one knows not how.

In this secret principle of resolving to invent what no other had before conceived, by means of conjecture and assertion, and of maintaining his theories with all the pride of a sophist, and all the fierceness of an inquisitor, we have the key to all the contests by which this great mind so long supported his literary usurpations.

The first step the giant took showed the mightiness of his stride. His first great work was the famous “Alliance between Church and State.” It surprised the world, who saw the most important subject depending on a mere curious argument, which, like all political theories, was liable to be overthrown by writers of opposite principles.[158] The term “Alliance” seemed to the dissenters to infer that the Church was an independent power, forming a contract with the State, and not acknowledging that it is only an integral part, 250 like that of the army or the navy.[159] Warburton had not probably decided, at that time, on the principle of ecclesiastical power: whether it was paramount by its divine origin, as one party asserted; or whether, as the new philosophers, Hobbes, Selden, and others, insisted, the spiritual was secondary to the civil power.[160]

The intrepidity of this vast genius appears in the plan of his greater work. The omission of a future state of reward and punishment, in the Mosaic writings, was perpetually urged as a proof that the mission was not of divine origin: the ablest defenders strained at obscure or figurative passages, to force unsatisfactory inferences; but they were looking after what could not be found. Warburton at once boldly acknowledged it was not there; at once adopted all the objections of the infidels: and roused the curiosity of both parties by the hardy assertion, that this very omission was a demonstration of its divine origin.[161]


The first idea of this new project was bold and delightful, and the plan magnificent. Paganism, Judaism, and Christianity, the three great religions of mankind, were to be marshalled in all their pomp, and their awe, and their mystery. But the procession changed to a battle! To maintain one great paradox, he was branching out into innumerable ones. This great work was never concluded: the author wearied himself, without, however, wearying his readers; and, as his volumes appeared, he was still referring to his argument, “as far as it is yet advanced.” The demonstration appeared in great danger of ending in a conjecture; and this work, always beginning and never ending, proved to be the glory and misery of his life.[162] In perpetual conflict with 252 those numerous adversaries it roused, Warburton often shifted his ground, and broke into so many divisions, that when he cried out, Victory! his scattered forces seemed rather to be in flight than in pursuit.[163]

The same SECRET PRINCIPLE led him to turn the poetical narrative of Æneas in the infernal regions, an episode evidently imitated by Virgil from his Grecian master, into a minute description of the initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries. A notion so perfectly new was at least worth a commonplace truth. Was it not delightful to have so many particulars detailed of a secret transaction, which even its contemporaries of two thousand years ago did not presume to know anything about? Father Hardouin seems to have opened the way for Warburton, since he had discovered that the whole Æneid was an allegorical voyage of St. Peter to Rome! When Jortin, in one of his “Six Dissertations,” modestly illustrated Virgil by an interpretation inconsistent with Warburton’s strange discovery, it produced a memorable quarrel. Then Hurd, the future shield, scarcely the sword, 253 of Warburton, made his first sally; a dapper, subtle, and cold-blooded champion, who could dexterously turn about the polished weapon of irony.[164] So much our Railleur admired the volume of Jortin, that he favoured him with “A Seventh Dissertation, addressed to the Author of the Sixth, on the Delicacy of Friendship,” one of the most malicious, but the keenest pieces of irony. It served as the foundation of a new School of Criticism, in which the arrogance of the master was to be supported by the pupil’s contempt of men often his superiors. To interpret Virgil differently from the modern Stagirite, was, by the aggravating art of the ridiculer, to be considered as the violation of a moral feeling.[165] 254 Jortin bore the slow torture and the teasing of Hurd’s dissecting-knife in dignified silence.

At length a rising genius demonstrated how Virgil could not have described the Eleusinian Mysteries in the sixth book of the Æneid. One blow from the arm of Gibbon shivered the allegorical fairy palace into glittering fragments.[166]

When the sceptical Middleton, in his “Essay on the Gift of Tongues,” pretended to think that “an inspired language would be perfect in its kind, with all the purity of Plato and the eloquence of Cicero,” and then asserted that “the style of the New Testament was utterly rude and barbarous, and abounding with every fault that can possibly deform a language,” Warburton, as was his custom, instantly acquiesced; but hardily maintained that “this very barbarism was one certain mark of a divine original.”[167]—The curious may follow his subtile argument in his “Doctrine of Grace;” but, in delivering this paradox, he struck at the fundamental principles 255 of eloquence: he dilated on all the abuses of that human art. It was precisely his utter want of taste which afforded him so copious an argument; for he asserted that the principles of eloquence were arbitrary and chimerical, and its various modes “mostly fantastical;” and that, consequently, there was no such thing as a good taste,[168] except what the consent of the learned had made; an expression borrowed from Quintilian. A plausible and a consolatory argument for the greater part of mankind! It, however, roused the indignation of Leland, the eloquent translator of Demosthenes, and the rhetorical professor at Trinity College, in Dublin, who has nobly defended the cause of classical taste and feeling by profounder principles. His classic anger produced his “Dissertation on the Principles of Human Eloquence;” a volume so much esteemed that it is still reprinted. Leland refuted the whimsical paradox, yet complimented Warburton, who, “with the spirit and energy of an ancient orator, was writing against eloquence,” while he showed that the style of the New Testament was defensible on surer grounds. Hurd, who had fleshed his polished weapon on poor Jortin, and had been received into the arms of the hero under whom he now fought, adventured to cast his javelin at Leland: it was dipped in the cold poison of contempt and petulance. It struck, but did not canker, leaves that were immortal.[169] Leland, with the native warmth of his soil, could not resist the gratification of a reply; but the nobler part of the triumph was, the assistance he lent to the circulation of Hurd’s letter, by reprinting it with his own 256 reply, to accompany a new edition of his “Dissertation on Eloquence.”[170]

We now pursue the SECRET PRINCIPLE, operating on lighter topics; when, turning commentator, with the same originality as when an author, his character as a literary adventurer is still more prominent, extorting double senses, discovering the most fantastical allusions, and making men of genius but of confined reading, learned, with all the lumber of his own unwieldy erudition.

When the German professor Crousaz published a rigid examen of the doctrines in Pope’s “Essay on Man,” Warburton volunteered a defence of Pope. Some years before, it appears that Warburton himself, in a literary club at Newark, had produced a dissertation against those very doctrines! where he asserted that “the Essay was collected from the worst passages of the worst authors.” This probably occurred at the time he declared that Pope had no genius! Bolingbroke really WROTE the “Essay on Man,” which Pope versified.[171] His principles may be often objectionable; but those 257 who only read this fine philosophical poem for its condensed verse, its imagery, and its generous sentiments, will run no danger from a metaphysical system they will not care to comprehend.

But this serves not as an apology for Warburton, who now undertook an elaborate defence of what he had himself condemned, and for which purpose he has most unjustly depressed Crousaz—an able logician, and a writer ardent in the cause of religion. This commentary on the “Essay on Man,” then, looks much like the work of a sophist and an adventurer! Pope, who was now alarmed at the tendency of some of those principles he had so innocently versified, received Warburton as his tutelary genius. A mere poet was soon dazzled by the sorcery of erudition; and he himself, having nothing of that kind of learning, believed Warburton to be the Scaliger of the age, for his gratitude far exceeded his knowledge.[172] The poet died in this delusion: he consigned his immortal works to the mercy of a ridiculous commentary and a tasteless commentator, whose labours have cost so much pains to subsequent editors to remove. Yet from this moment we date the worldly fortunes of Warburton.—Pope presented him with the entire property of his works; introduced him to a blind and obedient patron, who bestowed on him a rich wife, by whom he secured 258 a fine mansion; till at length, the mitre crowned his last ambition. Such was the large chapter of accidents in Warburton’s life!

There appears in Warburton’s conduct respecting the editions of the great poets which he afterwards published, something systematic; he treated the several editors of those very poets, Theobald, Hanmer, and Grey, who were his friends, with the same odd sort of kindness: when he was unknown to the world, he cheerfully contributed to all their labours, and afterwards abused them with the liveliest severity.[173] It 259 is probable that he had himself projected these editions as a source of profit, but had contributed to the more advanced labours of his rival editors, merely as specimens of his talent, that the public might hereafter be thus prepared for his own more perfect commentaries.

Warburton employed no little art[174] to excite the public 260 curiosity respecting his future Shakspeare: he liberally presented Dr. Birch with his MS. notes for that great work the “General Dictionary,” no doubt as the prelude of his after-celebrated edition. Birch was here only a dupe: he escaped, unlike Theobald, Hanmer, and Grey, from being overwhelmed with ridicule and contempt. When these extraordinary specimens of emendatory and illustrative criticism appeared in the “General Dictionary,” with general readers they excited all the astonishment of perfect novelty. It must have occurred to them, that no one as yet had understood Shakspeare; and, indeed, that it required no less erudition than that of the new luminary now rising in the critical horizon to display the amazing erudition of this most recondite poet. Conjectural criticism not only changed the words but the thoughts of the author; perverse interpretations of plain matters. Many a striking passage was wrested into a new meaning: plain words were subtilised to remove conceits; here one line was rejected, and there an interpolation, inspired alone by critical sagacity, pretended to restore a lost one; and finally, a source of knowledge was opened in the notes, on subjects which no other critic suspected could, by any ingenuity, stand connected with Shakspeare’s text.

At length the memorable edition appeared: all the world knows its chimeras.[175] One of its most remarkable results was 261 the production of that work, which annihilated the whimsical labours of Warburton, Edwards’s “Canons of Criticism,” one of those successful facetious criticisms which enliven our literary history. Johnson, awed by the learning of Warburton, and warmed by a personal feeling for a great genius who had condescended to encourage his first critical labour, grudgingly bestows a moderated praise on this exquisite satire, which he characterises for “its airy petulance, suitable enough to the levity of the controversy.” He compared this attack “to a fly, which may sting and tease a horse, but yet the horse is the nobler animal.”[176] Among the prejudices of criticism, is one which hinders us from relishing a masterly performance, when it ridicules a favourite author; but to us, mere historians, truth will always prevail over literary favouritism. The work of Edwards effected its purpose, that of “laughing down Warburton to his proper rank and character.”[177]


Warburton designates himself as “a critic by profession;” and tells us, he gave this edition “to deter the unlearned writer from wantonly trifling with an art he is a stranger to, at the expense of the integrity of the text of established authors.” Edwards has placed a N.B. on this declaration:—“A writer may properly be called unlearned, who, notwithstanding all his other knowledge, does not understand the subject which he writes upon.” But the most dogmatical absurdity was Warburton’s declaration, that it was once his design to have given “a body of canons for criticism, drawn out in form, with a glossary;” and further he informs the reader, that though this has not been done by him, if the reader will take the trouble, he may supply himself, as these canons of criticism lie scattered in the course of the notes. This idea was seized on with infinite humour by Edwards, who, from these very notes, has framed a set of “Canons of Criticism,” as ridiculous as possible, but every one illustrated by authentic examples, drawn from the labours of our new Stagirite.[178]


At length, when the public had decided on the fact of Warburton’s edition, it was confessed that the editor’s design had never been to explain Shakspeare! and that he was even conscious he had frequently imputed to the poet meanings which he never thought! Our critic’s great object was to display his own learning! Warburton wrote for Warburton, and not for Shakspeare! and the literary imposture almost rivals the confessions of Lander or Psalmanazar!

The same SECRET PRINCIPLE was pursued in his absurd edition of Pope. He formed an unbroken Commentary on the “Essay on Criticism,” to show that that admirable collection of precepts had been constructed by a systematical method, which it is well known the poet never designed; and the same instruments of torture were here used as in the “Essay on Man,” to reconcile a system of fatalism to the doctrines of Revelation.[179] Warton had to remove the incumbrance 264 of his Commentaries on Pope, while a most laborious confederacy zealously performed the same task to relieve Shakspeare. Thus Warburton pursued ONE SECRET PRINCIPLE in all his labours; thus he raised edifices which could not be securely inhabited, and were only impediments in the roadway; and these works are now known by the labours of those who have exerted their skill in laying them in ruins.

Warburton was probably aware that the SECRET PRINCIPLE which regulated his public opinions might lay him open, at numerous points, to the strokes of ridicule. It is a weapon which every one is willing to use, but which seems to terrify every one when it is pointed against themselves. There is no party or sect which have not employed it in their most serious controversies: the grave part of mankind protest against it, often at the moment they have been directing it for their own purpose. And the inquiry, whether ridicule be a test of truth, is one of the large controversies in our own literature. It was opened by Lord Shaftesbury, and zealously maintained by his school. Akenside, in a note to his celebrated poem, asserts the efficacy of ridicule as a test of truth: Lord Kaimes had just done the same. Warburton levelled his piece at the lord in the bush-fighting of a note; but came down in the open field with a full discharge of his artillery on the luckless bard.[180]

Warburton designates Akenside under the sneering appellative of “The Poet,” and alluding to his “sublime account” of the use of ridicule, insultingly reminds him of “his Master,” Shaftesbury, and of that school which made morality an object of taste, shrewdly hinting that Akenside was “a man of taste;” a new term, as we are to infer from Warburton, for 265 “a Deist;” or, as Akenside had alluded to Spinoza, he might be something worse. The great critic loudly protested against the practice of ridicule; but, in attacking its advocate, he is himself an evidence of its efficacy, by keenly ridiculing “the Poet” and his opinions. Dyson, the patron of Akenside, nobly stepped forwards to rescue his Eagle, panting in the tremendous gripe of the critical Lion. His defence of Akenside is an argumentative piece of criticism on the nature of ridicule, curious, but wanting the graces of the genius who inspired it.[181]

I shall stop one moment, since it falls into our subject, to record this great literary battle on the use of ridicule, which has been fought till both parties, after having shed their ink, divide the field without victory or defeat, and now stand looking on each other.

The advocates for the use of Ridicule maintain that it is a natural sense or feeling, bestowed on us for wise purposes by the Supreme Being, as are the other feelings of beauty and of sublimity;—the sense of beauty to detect the deformity, as the sense of ridicule the absurdity of an object: and they further maintain, that no real virtues, such as wisdom, honesty, bravery, or generosity, can be ridiculed.

The great Adversary of Ridicule replied that they did not dare to ridicule the virtues openly; but, by overcharging and distorting them they could laugh at leisure. “Give them other names,” he says, “call them but Temerity, Prodigality, Simplicity, &c., and your business is done. Make them ridiculous, and you may go on, in the freedom of wit and humour (as Shaftesbury distinguishes ridicule), till there be never a virtue left to laugh out of countenance.”

The ridiculers acknowledge that their favourite art may do mischief, when dishonest men obtrude circumstances foreign to the object. But, they justly urge, that the use of reason itself is full as liable to the same objection: grant Spinoza his false premises, and his conclusions will be considered as true. Dyson threw out an ingenious illustration. “It is so equally 266 in the mathematics; where, in reasoning about a circle, if we join along with its real properties others that do not belong to it, our conclusions will certainly be erroneous. Yet who would infer from hence that the manner of proof is defective or fallacious?”

Warburton urged the strongest case against the use of ridicule, in that of Socrates and Aristophanes. In his strong and coarse illustration he shows, that “by clapping a fool’s coat on the most immaculate virtue, it stuck on Socrates like a San Benito, and at last brought him to his execution: it made the owner resemble his direct opposite; that character he was most unlike. The consequences are well known.”

Warburton here adopted the popular notion, that the witty buffoon Aristophanes was the occasion of the death of the philosopher Socrates. The defence is skilful on the part of Dyson; and we may easily conceive that on so important a point Akenside had been consulted. I shall give it in his own words:—

“The Socrates of Aristophanes is as truly ridiculous a character as ever was drawn; but it is not the character of Socrates himself. The object was perverted, and the mischief which ensued was owing to the dishonesty of him who persuaded the people that that was the real character of Socrates, not from any error in the faculty of ridicule itself.”—Dyson then states the fact as it concerned Socrates. “The real intention of the contrivers of this ridicule was not so much to mislead the people, by giving them a bad opinion of Socrates, as to sound what was at the time the general opinion of him, that from thence they might judge whether it would be safe to bring a direct accusation against him. The most effectual way of making this trial was by ridiculing him; for they knew, if the people saw his character in its true light, they would be displeased with the misrepresentation, and not endure the ridicule. On trial this appeared: the play met with its deserved fate; and, notwithstanding the exquisiteness of the wit, was absolutely rejected. A second attempt succeeded no better; and the abettors of the poet were so discouraged from pursuing their design against Socrates, that it was not till ABOVE TWENTY YEARS after the publication of the play that they brought their accusation against him! It was not, therefore, ridicule that did, or could destroy Socrates: he was rather sacrificed for the right use of it himself, against the Sophists, who could not bear the test.”


Thus, then, stands the argument.—Warburton, reasoning on the abuses of ridicule, has opened to us all its dangers. Its advocate concedes that Ridicule, to be a test of Truth, must not impose on us circumstances which are foreign to the object. No object can be ridiculed that is not ridiculous. Should this happen, then the ridicule is false; and, as such, can be proved as much as any piece of false reasoning. We may therefore conclude, that ridicule is a taste of congruity and propriety not possessed by every one; a test which separates truth from imposture; a talent against the exercise of which most men are interested to protest; but which, being founded on the constituent principles of the human mind, is often indulged at the very moment it is decried and complained of.

But we must not leave this great man without some notice of that peculiar style of controversy which he adopted, and which may be distinguished among our Literary Quarrels. He has left his name to a school—a school which the more liberal spirit of the day we live in would not any longer endure. Who has not heard of The Warburtonians?

That SECRET PRINCIPLE which directed Warburton in all his works, and which we have attempted to pursue, could not of itself have been sufficient to have filled the world with the name of Warburton. Other scholars have published reveries, and they have passed away, after showing themselves for a time, leaving no impression; like those coloured and shifting shadows on a wall, with which children are amused; but Warburton was a literary Revolutionist, who, to maintain a new order of things, exercised all the despotism of a perpetual dictator. The bold unblushing energy which could lay down the most extravagant positions, was maintained by a fierce dogmatic spirit, and by a peculiar style of mordacious contempt and intolerant insolence, beating down his opponents from all quarters with an animating shout of triumph, to encourage those more serious minds, who, overcome by his genius, were yet often alarmed by the ambiguous tendency of his speculations.[182]


The Warburtonian School was to be supported by the most licentious principles; by dictatorial arrogance,[183] by gross invective, and by airy sarcasm;[184] the bitter contempt which, 269 with its many little artifices, lowers an adversary in the public opinion, was more peculiarly the talent of one of the aptest scholars, the cool, the keen, the sophistical Hurd. The lowest arts of confederacy were connived at by all the disciples,[185] prodigal of praise to themselves, and retentive of it 270 to all others; the world was to be divided into two parts, the Warburtonians and the Anti.

To establish this new government in the literary world, this great Revolutionist was favoured by Fortune with two important aids; the one was a Machine, by which he could wield public opinion; and the other a Man, who seemed born to be his minister or his viceroy.

The machine was nothing less than the immortal works of Pope; as soon as Warburton had obtained a royal patent to secure to himself the sole property of Pope’s works, the public were compelled, under the disguise of a Commentary on the most classical of our Poets, to be concerned with all his literary 271 quarrels, and have his libels and lampoons perpetually before them; all the foul waters of his anger were deposited here as in a common reservoir.[186]


Fanciful as was the genius of Warburton, it delighted too much in its eccentric motions, and in its own solitary greatness, amid abstract and recondite topics, to have strongly attracted the public attention, had not a party been formed 273 around him, at the head of which stood the active and subtle Hurd; and amid the gradations of the votive brotherhood, the profound Balguy,[187] the spirited Brown,[188] till we descend—


To his tame jackal, parson Towne.[189]    

Verses on Warburton’s late Edition.

This Warburtonian party reminds one of an old custom among our elder poets, who formed a kind of freemasonry among themselves, by adopting younger poets by the title of their sons.—But that was a domestic society of poets; this, a revival of the Jesuitic order instituted by its founder, that—

By him supported with a proper pride,
They might hold all mankind as fools beside.
Might, like himself, teach each adopted son,
’Gainst all the world, to quote a Warburton.[190]    

Churchill’s “Fragment of a Dedication.”

The character of a literary sycophant was never more perfectly exhibited than in Hurd. A Whig in principle, yet he had all a courtier’s arts for Warburton; to him he devoted all his genius, though that, indeed, was moderate; aided him with all his ingenuity, which was exquisite; and lent his cause a certain delicacy of taste and cultivated elegance, which, although too prim and artificial, was a vein of gold running through his mass of erudition; it was Hurd who aided the usurpation of Warburton in the province of criticism above 275 Aristotle and Longinus.[191] Hurd is justly characterised by Warton, in his Spenser, vol. ii. p. 36, as “the most sensible and ingenious of modern critics.”—He was a lover of his studies; and he probably was sincere, when he once told a friend of the literary antiquary Cole, that he would have 276 chosen not to quit the university, for he loved retirement; and on that principle Cowley was his favourite poet, which he afterwards showed by his singular edition of that poet. He was called from the cloistered shades to assume the honourable dignity of a Royal Tutor. Had he devoted his days to literature, he would have still enriched its stores. But he had other more supple and more serviceable qualifications. Most adroit was he in all the archery of controversy: he had the subtlety that can evade the aim of the assailant, and the slender dexterity, substituted for vigour, that struck when least expected. The subaltern genius of Hurd required to be animated by the heroic energy of Warburton; and the careless courage of the chief wanted one who could maintain the unguarded passages he left behind him in his progress.

Such, then, was Warburton, and such the quarrels of this great author. He was, through his literary life, an adventurer, guided by that secret principle which opened an immediate road to fame. By opposing the common sentiments of mankind, he awed and he commanded them; and by giving a new face to all things, he surprised, by the appearances of discoveries. All this, so pleasing to his egotism, was not, however, fortunate for his ambition. To sustain an authority which he had usurped; to substitute for the taste he wanted a curious and dazzling erudition; and to maintain those reckless decisions which so often plunged him into perils, Warburton adopted his system of Literary Quarrels. These were the illegitimate means which raised a sudden celebrity, and which genius kept alive, as long as that genius lasted; but Warburton suffered that literary calamity, too protracted a period of human life: he outlived himself and his fame. This great and original mind sacrificed all his genius to that secret principle we have endeavoured to develope—it was a self-immolation!

The learned Selden, in the curious little volume of his “Table-Talk,” has delivered to posterity a precept for the learned, which they ought to wear, like the Jewish phylacteries, as “a frontlet between their eyes.” No man is the wiser for his learning: it may administer matter to work in, or objects to work upon; but wit and wisdom are born with a man. Sir Thomas Hanmer, who was well acquainted with Warburton, during their correspondence about Shakspeare, often said of him:—“The only use he could find in Mr. Warburton was starting the game; he was not to be trusted in 277 running it down.” A just discrimination! His fervid curiosity was absolutely creative; but his taste and his judgment, perpetually stretched out by his system, could not save him from even inglorious absurdities!

Warburton, it is probable, was not really the character he appears. It mortifies the lovers of genius to discover how a natural character may be thrown into a convulsed unnatural state by some adopted system: it is this system, which, carrying it, as it were, beyond itself, communicates a more than natural, but a self-destroying energy. All then becomes reversed! The arrogant and vituperative Warburton was only such in his assumed character; for in still domestic life he was the creature of benevolence, touched by generous passions. But in public life the artificial or the acquired character prevails over the one which nature designed for us; and by that all public men, as well as authors, are usually judged by posterity.




Pope adopted a system of literary politics—collected with extraordinary care everything relative to his Quarrels—no politician ever studied to obtain his purposes by more oblique directions and intricate stratagems—some of his manœuvres—his systematic hostility not practised with impunity—his claim to his own works contested—Cibber’s facetious description of Pope’s feelings, and Welsted’s elegant satire on his genius—Dennis’s account of Pope’s Introduction to him—his political prudence further discovered in the Collection of all the Pieces relative to the Dunciad, in which he employed Savage—the Theobaldians and the Popeians; an attack by a Theobaldian—The Dunciad ingeniously defended, for the grossness of its imagery, and its reproach of the poverty of the authors, supposed by Pope himself, with some curious specimens of literary personalities—the Literary Quarrel between Aaron Hill and Pope distinguished for its romantic cast—a Narrative of the extraordinary transactions respecting the publication of Pope’s Letters; an example of Stratagem and Conspiracy, illustrative of his character.

Pope has proudly perpetuated the history of his Literary Quarrels; and he appears to have been among those authors, surely not forming the majority, who have delighted in, or have not been averse to provoke, hostility. He has registered the titles of every book, even to a single paper, or a copy of verses, in which their authors had committed treason against his poetical sovereignty.[192] His ambition seemed gratified 279 in heaping these trophies to his genius, while his meaner passions could compile one of the most voluminous of the scandalous chronicles of literature. We are mortified on discovering so fine a genius in the text humbling itself through all the depravity of a commentary full of spleen, and not without the fictions of satire. The unhappy influence his Literary Quarrels had on this great poet’s life remains to be traced. 280 He adopted a system of literary politics abounding with stratagems, conspiracies, manœuvres, and factions.

Pope’s literary quarrels were the wars of his poetical ambition, more perhaps than of the petulance and strong irritability of his character. They were some of the artifices he adopted from the peculiarity of his situation.

Thrown out of the active classes of society from a variety of causes sufficiently known,[193] concentrating his passions into a solitary one, his retired life was passed in the contemplation of his own literary greatness. Reviewing the past, and anticipating the future, he felt he was creating a new era in our literature, an event which does not always occur in a century: but eager to secure present celebrity, with the victory obtained in the open field, he combined the intrigues of the cabinet: thus, while he was exerting great means, he practised little artifices. No politician studied to obtain his purposes by more oblique directions, or with more intricate stratagems; and Pope was at once the lion and the fox of Machiavel. A book might be written on the Stratagems of Literature, as Frontinus has composed one on War, and among its subtilest heroes we might place this great poet.

To keep his name alive before the public was one of his early plans. When he published his “Essay on Criticism,” anonymously, the young and impatient poet was mortified with the inertion of public curiosity: he was almost in despair.[194] Twice, perhaps oftener, Pope attacked Pope;[195] and 281 he frequently concealed himself under the names of others, for some particular design. Not to point out his dark familiar “Scriblerus,” always at hand for all purposes, he made use of the names of several of his friends. When he employed Savage in “a collection of all the pieces, in verse and prose, published on occasion of the Dunciad,” he subscribed his name to an admirable dedication to Lord Middlesex, where he minutely relates the whole history of the Dunciad, “and the weekly clubs held to consult of hostilities against the author;” and, for an express introduction to that work, he used the name of Cleland, to which is added a note, expressing surprise that the world did not believe that Cleland was the writer![196] 282 Wanting a pretext for the publication of his letters, he delighted Curll by conveying to him some printed surreptitious copies, who soon discovered that it was but a fairy treasure which he could not grasp; and Pope, in his own defence, had soon ready the authentic edition.[197] Some lady observed that Pope “hardly drank tea without a stratagem!” The female genius easily detects its own peculiar faculty, when it is exercised with inferior delicacy.

But his systematic hostility did not proceed with equal impunity: in this perpetual war with dulness, he discovered that every one he called a dunce was not so; nor did he find the dunces themselves less inconvenient to him; for many successfully substituted, for their deficiencies in better qualities, the lie that lasts long enough to vex a man; and the insolence that does not fear him: they attacked him at all points, and not always in the spirit of legitimate warfare.[198] They filled up his asterisks, and accused him of treason. They asserted that the panegyrical verses prefixed to his works (an obsolete mode of recommendation, which Pope condescended to practise), were his own composition, and to which he had affixed the names of some dead or some unknown writers. They 283 published lists of all whom Pope had attacked; placing at the head, “God Almighty; the King;” descending to the “lords and gentlemen.”[199] A few suspected his skill in Greek; but every hound yelped in the halloo against his Homer.[200] Yet the more extraordinary circumstance was, their hardy disputes with Pope respecting his claim to his own works, and the difficulty he more than once found to establish his rights. Sometimes they divided public opinion by even indicating the 284 real authors; and witnesses from White’s and St. James’s were ready to be produced. Among these literary coteries, several of Pope’s productions, in their anonymous, and even in their MS. state, had been appropriated by several pseudo authors; and when Pope called for restitution, he seemed to be claiming nothing less than their lives. One of these gentlemen had enjoyed a very fair reputation for more than two years on the “Memoirs of a Parish-Clerk;” another, on “The Messiah!” and there were many other vague claims. All this was vexatious; but not so much as the ridiculous attitude in which Pope was sometimes placed by his enraged adversaries.[201] He must have found himself in a more perilous situation when he hired a brawny champion, or borrowed the generous courage of some military friend.[202] To all these 285 troubles we may add, that Pope has called down on himself more lasting vengeance; and the good sense of Theobald, the furious but often acute remarks of Dennis; the good-humoured yet keen remonstrance of Cibber; the silver shaft, tipped with venom, sent from the injured but revengeful Lady Mary; and many a random shot, that often struck him, inflicted on him many a sleepless night.[203] The younger Richardson has recorded the personal sufferings of Pope when, one day, in taking up Cibber’s letter, while his face was writhing with agony, he feebly declared that “these things were as good as hartshorn to him;” but he appeared at that 286 moment rather to want a little. And it is probably true, what Cibber facetiously says of Pope, in his second letter:—“Everybody tells me that I have made you as uneasy as a rat in a hot kettle, for a twelvemonth together.”[204]

Pope was pursued through life by the insatiable vengeance of Dennis. The young poet, who had got introduced to him, among his first literary acquaintances, could not fail, when the occasion presented itself, of ridiculing this uncouth son of Aristotle. The blow was given in the character of Appius, in the “Art of Criticism;” and it is known Appius was instantaneously recognised by the fierce shriek of the agonised critic himself. From that moment Dennis resolved to write down every work of Pope’s. How dangerous to offend certain tempers, verging on madness![205] Dennis, too, called on every one to join him in the common cause; and once he retaliated on Pope in his own way. Accused by Pope of being the writer of an account of himself, in Jacob’s “Lives of the Poets,” Dennis procured a letter from Jacob, which he published, and in which it appears that Pope’s own character in this collection, if not written by him, was by him very carefully corrected on the proof-sheet; so that he stood in the same ridiculous attitude into which he had thrown Dennis, as his own trumpeter. Dennis, whose brutal energy 287 remained unsubdued, was a rhinoceros of a critic, shelled up against the arrows of wit. This monster of criticism awed the poet; and Dennis proved to be a Python, whom the golden shaft of Apollo could not pierce.

The political prudence of Pope was further discovered in the “Collection of all the Pieces relative to the Dunciad,” on which he employed Savage: these exemplified the justness of the satire, or defended it from all attacks. The precursor of the Dunciad was a single chapter in “The Bathos; or, the Art of Sinking in Poetry;” where the humorous satirist discovers an analogy between flying-fishes, parrots, tortoises, &c., and certain writers, whose names are designated by initial letters. In this unlucky alphabet of dunces, not one of them but was applied to some writer of the day; and the loud clamours these excited could not be appeased by the simplicity of our poet’s declaration, that the letters were placed at random: and while his oil could not smooth so turbulent a sea, every one swore to the flying-fish or the tortoise, as he had described them. It was still more serious when the Dunciad appeared. Of that class of authors who depended for a wretched existence on their wages, several were completely ruined, for no purchasers were to be found for the works of some authors, after they had been inscribed in the chronicle of our provoking and inimitable satirist.[206]


It is in this collection by Savage I find the writer’s admirable satire on the class of literary prostitutes. It is entitled “An Author to be Let, by Iscariot Hackney.” It has been ably commended by Johnson in his “Life of Savage,” and on his recommendation Thomas Davies inserted it in his “Collection of Fugitive Pieces;” but such is the careless curiosity of modern re-publishers, that often, in preserving a decayed body, they are apt to drop a limb: this was the case with Davies; for he has dropped the preface, far more exquisite than the work itself. A morsel of such poignant relish betrays the hand of the master who snatched the pen for a moment.

This preface defends Pope from the two great objections justly raised at the time against the Dunciad: one is, the grossness and filthiness of its imagery; and the other, its reproachful allusions to the poverty of the authors.

The indelicacies of the Dunciad are thus wittily apologised for:—

“They are suitable to the subject; a subject composed, for the most part, of authors whose writings are the refuse of 289 wit, and who in life are the very excrement of Nature. Mr. Pope has, too, used dung; but he disposes that dung in such a manner that it becomes rich manure, from which he raises a variety of fine flowers. He deals in rags; but like an artist, who commits them to a paper-mill, and brings them out useful sheets. The chemist extracts a fine cordial from the most nauseous of all dung; and Mr. Pope has drawn a sweet poetical spirit from the most offensive and unpoetical objects of the creation—unpoetical, though eternal writers of poetry.”

The reflections on the poverty of its heroes are thus ingeniously defended:—“Poverty, not proceeding from folly, but which may be owing to virtue, sets a man in an amiable light; but when our wants are of our own seeking, and prove the motive of every ill action (for the poverty of bad authors has always a bad heart for its companion), is it not a vice, and properly the subject of satire?” The preface then proceeds to show how “all these said writers might have been good mechanics.” He illustrates his principles with a most ungracious account of several of his contemporaries. I shall give a specimen of what I consider as the polished sarcasm and caustic humour of Pope, on some favourite subjects.

“Mr. Thomas Cooke.—His enemies confess him not without merit. To do the man justice, he might have made a tolerable figure as a Tailor. ’Twere too presumptuous to affirm he could have been a master in any profession; but, dull as I allow him, he would not have been despicable for a third or a fourth hand journeyman. Then had his wants have been avoided; for, he would at least have learnt to cut his coat according to his cloth.

“Why would not Mr. Theobald continue an attorney? Is not Word-catching more serviceable in splitting a cause, than explaining a fine poet?

“When Mrs. Haywood ceased to be a strolling-actress, why might not the lady (though once a theatrical queen) have subsisted by turning washerwoman? Has not the fall of greatness been a frequent distress in all ages? She might have caught a beautiful bubble, as it arose from the suds of her tub, blown it in air, seen it glitter, and then break! Even in this low condition, she had played with a bubble; and what more is the vanity of human greatness?

“Had it not been an honester and more decent livelihood for Mr. Norton (Daniel De Foe’s son of love by a lady who 290 vended oysters) to have dealt in a fish-market, than to be dealing out the dialects of Billingsgate in the Flying-post?

“Had it not been more laudable for Mr. Roome, the son of an undertaker, to have borne a link and a mourning-staff, in the long procession of a funeral—or even been more decent in him to have sung psalms, according to education, in an Anabaptist meeting, than to have been altering the Jovial Crew, or Merry Beggars, into a wicked imitation of the Beggar’s Opera?”

This satire seems too exquisite for the touch of Savage, and is quite in the spirit of the author of the Dunciad. There is, in Ruffhead’s “Life of Pope,” a work to which Warburton contributed all his care, a passage which could only have been written by Warburton. The strength and coarseness of the imagery could never have been produced by the dull and feeble intellect of Ruffhead: it is the opinion, therefore, of Warburton himself, on the Dunciad. “The good purpose intended by this satire was, to the herd in general, of less efficacy than our author hoped; for scribblers have not the common sense of other vermin, who usually abstain from mischief, when they see any of their kind gibbeted or nailed up, as terrible examples.”—Warburton employed the same strong image in one of his threats.

One of Pope’s Literary Quarrels must be distinguished for its romantic cast.

In the Treatise on the Bathos, the initial letters of the bad writers occasioned many heartburns; and, among others, Aaron Hill suspected he was marked out by the letters A. H. This gave rise to a large correspondence between Hill and Pope. Hill, who was a very amiable man, was infinitely too susceptible of criticism; and Pope, who seems to have had a personal regard for him, injured those nice feelings as little as possible. Hill had published a panegyrical poem on Peter the Great, under the title of “The Northern Star;” and the bookseller had conveyed to him a criticism of Pope’s, of which Hill publicly acknowledged he mistook the meaning. When the Treatise of “The Bathos” appeared, Pope insisted he had again mistaken the initials A. H.—Hill gently attacked Pope in “a paper of very pretty verses,” as Pope calls them. When the Dunciad appeared, Hill is said “to have published pieces, in his youth, bordering upon the bombast.” This was as light a stroke as could be inflicted; and which Pope, with great good-humour, tells Hill, might be equally 291 applied to himself; for he always acknowledged, that when a boy, he had written an Epic poem of that description; would often quote absurd verses from it, for the diversion of his friends; and actually inserted some of the most extravagant ones in the very Treatise on “The Bathos.” Poor Hill, however, was of the most sickly delicacy, and produced “The Caveat,” another gentle rebuke, where Pope is represented as “sneakingly to approve, and want the worth to cherish or befriend men of merit.” In the course of this correspondence, Hill seems to have projected the utmost stretch of his innocent malice; for he told Pope, that he had almost finished “An Essay on Propriety and Impropriety in Design, Thought, and Expression, illustrated by examples in both kinds, from the writings of Mr. Pope;” but he offers, if this intended work should create the least pain to Mr. Pope, he was willing, with all his heart, to have it run thus:—“An Essay on Propriety and Impropriety, &c., illustrated by Examples of the first, from the writings of Mr. Pope, and of the rest, from those of the author.”—To the romantic generosity of this extraordinary proposal, Pope replied, “I acknowledge your generous offer, to give examples of imperfections rather out of your own works than mine: I consent, with all my heart, to your confining them to mine, for two reasons: the one, that I fear your sensibility that way is greater than my own: the other is a better; namely, that I intend to correct the faults you find, if they are such as I expect from Mr. Hill’s cool judgment.”[207]

Where, in literary history, can be found the parallel of such an offer of self-immolation? This was a literary quarrel like that of lovers, where to hurt each other would have given pain to both parties. Such skill and desire to strike, with so much tenderness in inflicting a wound; so much compliment, with so much complaint; have perhaps never met together, as in the romantic hostility of this literary chivalry.




Johnson observes, that “one of the passages of Pope’s life which seems to deserve some inquiry, was the publication of his letters by Curll, the rapacious bookseller.”[208] Our great literary biographer has expended more research on this occasion than his usual penury of literary history allowed; and yet has only told the close of the strange transaction—the previous parts are more curious, and the whole cannot be separated. Joseph Warton has only transcribed Johnson’s narrative. It is a piece of literary history of an uncommon complexion; and it is worth the pains of telling, if Pope, as I consider him to be, was the subtile weaver of a plot, whose texture had been close enough for any political conspiracy. It throws a strong light on the portrait I have touched of him. He conducted all his literary transactions with the arts of a Minister of State; and the genius which he wasted on this literary stratagem, in which he so completely succeeded, might have been perhaps sufficient to have organised rebellion.

It is well known that the origin of Pope’s first letters given to the public, arose from the distresses of a cast-off mistress of one of his old friends (H. Cromwell),[209] who had 293 given her the letters of Pope, which she knew how to value: these she afterwards sold to Curll, who preserved the originals in his shop, so that no suspicions could arise of their authenticity. This very collection is now deposited among Rawlinson’s MSS. at the Bodleian.[210]

This single volume was successful; and when Pope, to do justice to the memory of Wycherley, which had been injured by a posthumous volume, printed some of their letters, Curll, who seemed now to consider that all he could touch was his own property, and that his little volume might serve as a foundation-stone, immediately announced a new edition of it, with Additions, meaning to include the letters of Pope and Wycherley. Curll now became so fond of Pope’s Letters, that he advertised for any: “no questions to be asked.” Curll was willing to be credulous: having proved to the world he had some originals, he imagined these would sanction even spurious one. A man who, for a particular purpose, sought to be imposed on, easily obtained his wish: they translated letters of Voiture to Mademoiselle Rambouillet, and despatched them to the eager Bibliopolist to print, as Pope’s to Miss Blount. He went on increasing his collection; and, skilful in catering for the literary taste of the town, now inflamed their appetite by dignifying it with “Mr. Pope’s Literary Correspondence!”

But what were the feelings of Pope during these successive surreptitious editions? He had discovered that his genuine letters were liked; the grand experiment with the public had been made for him, while he was deprived of the profits; yet for he himself to publish his own letters, which I shall prove he had prepared, was a thing unheard of in the nation. All this was vexatious; and to stop the book-jobber and open the market for himself, was a point to be obtained.

While Curll was proceeding, wind and tide in his favour, a new and magnificent prospect burst upon him. A certain person, masked by the initials P. T., understanding Curll was preparing a Life of Pope, offered him “divers Memoirs gratuitously;” hinted that he was well known to Pope; but the poet had lately “treated him as a stranger.” P. T. desires an answer from E. C. by the Daily Advertiser, which was complied with. There are passages in this letter which, 294 I think, prove Pope to be the projector of it: his family is here said to be allied to Lord Downe’s; his father is called a merchant. Pope could not bear the reproach of Lady Mary’s line:—

Hard as thy heart, and as thy birth obscure.

He always hinted at noble relatives; but Tyers tells us, from the information of a relative, that “his father turns out, at last, to have been a linen-draper in the Strand:” therefore P. T. was at least telling a story which Pope had no objection should be repeated.

The second letter of P. T., for the first was designed only to break the ice, offers Curll “a large Collection of Letters from the early days of Pope to the year 1727.” He gives an excellent notion of their value: “They will open very many scenes new to the world, and make the most authentic Life and Memoirs that could be.” He desires they may be announced to the world immediately, in Curll’s precious style, that he “might not appear himself to have set the whole thing a-foot, and afterwards he might plead he had only sent some letters to complete the Collection.” He asks nothing, and the originals were offered to be deposited with Curll.

Curll, secure of this promised addition, but still craving for more and more, composed a magnificent announcement, which, with P. T.’s entire correspondence, he enclosed in a letter to Pope himself. The letters were now declared to be a “Critical, Philological, and Historical Correspondence.”—His own letter is no bad specimen of his keen sense; but after what had so often passed, his impudence was equal to the better quality.

Sir,—To convince you of my readiness to oblige you, the inclosed is a demonstration. You have, as he says, disobliged a gentleman, the initial letters of whose name are P. T. I have some other papers in the same hand, relating to your family, which I will show, if you desire a sight of them. Your letters to Mr. Cromwell are out of print; and I intend to print them very beautifully, in an octavo volume. I have more to say than is proper to write; and if you will give me a meeting, I will wait on you with pleasure, and close all differences between you and yours,

E. Curll.

Pope, surprised, as he pretends, at this address, consulted with his friends; everything evil was suggested against Curll. They conceived that his real design was “to get Pope to look 295 over the former edition of his ‘Letters to Cromwell,’ and then to print it, as revised by Mr. Pope; as he sent an obscene book to a Bishop, and then advertised it as corrected and revised by him;” or perhaps to extort money from Pope for suppressing the MS. of P. T., and then publish it, saying P. T. had kept another copy. Pope thought proper to answer only by this public advertisement:—

“Whereas A. P. hath received a letter from E. C., bookseller, pretending that a person, the initials of whose name are P. T., hath offered the said E. C. to print a large Collection of Mr. P.’s letters, to which E. C. required an answer: A. P. having never had, nor intending to have, any private correspondence with the said E. C., gives it him in this manner. That he knows no such person as P. T.; that he believes he hath no such collection; and that he thinks the whole a forgery, and shall not trouble himself at all about it.”

Curll replied, denying he had endeavoured to correspond with Mr. Pope, and affirms that he had written to him by direction.

It is now the plot thickens. P. T. suddenly takes umbrage, accuses Curll of having “betrayed him to ‘Squire Pope,’ but you and he both shall soon be convinced it was no forgery. Since you would not comply with my proposal to advertise, I have printed them at my own expense.” He offers the books to Curll for sale.

Curll on this has written a letter, which takes a full view of the entire transaction. He seems to have grown tired of what he calls “such jealous, groundless, and dark negotiations.” P. T. now found it necessary to produce something more than a shadow—an agent appears, whom Curll considered to be a clergyman, who assumed the name of R. Smith. The first proposal was, that P. T.’s letters should be returned, that he might feel secure from all possibility of detection; so that P. T. terminates his part in this literary freemasonry as a nonentity.

Here Johnson’s account begins.—“Curll said, that one evening a man in a clergyman’s gown, but with a lawyer’s band, brought and offered to sale a number of printed volumes, which he found to be Pope’s Epistolary Correspondence; that he asked no name, and was told none, but gave the price demanded, and thought himself authorised to use his purchase to his own advantage.” Smith, the clergyman, left him some copies, and promised more.


Curll now, in all the elation of possession, rolled his thunder in an advertisement still higher than ever.—“Mr. Pope’s Literary Correspondence regularly digested, from 1704 to 1734:” to lords, earls, baronets, doctors, ladies, &c., with their respective answers, and whose names glittered in the advertisement. The original MSS. were also announced to be seen at his house.

But at this moment Curll had not received many books, and no MSS. The advertisement produced the effect designed; it roused public notice, and it alarmed several in the House of Lords. Pope doubtless instigated his friends there. The Earl of Jersey moved, that to publish letters of Lords was a breach of privilege; and Curll was brought before the House.

This was an unexpected incident; and P. T. once more throws his dark shadow across the path of Curll to hearten him, had he wanted courage to face all the lords. P. T. writes to instruct him in his answers to their examination; but to take the utmost care to conceal P. T.; he assures him that the lords could not touch a hair of his head if he behaved firmly; that he should only answer their interrogatories by declaring he received the letters from different persons; that some were given, and some were bought. P. T. reminds one, on this occasion, of Junius’s correspondence on a like threat with his publisher.

“Curll appeared at the bar,” says Johnson, “and knowing himself in no great danger, spoke of Pope with very little reverence. ‘He has,’ said Curll, ‘a knack at versifying; but in prose I think myself a match for him.’ When the Orders of the House were examined, none of them appeared to have been infringed: Curll went away triumphant, and Pope was left to seek some other remedy.” The fact, not mentioned by Johnson, is, that though Curll’s flourishing advertisement had announced letters written by lords, when the volumes were examined not one written by a lord appeared.

The letter Curll wrote on the occasion to one of these dark familiars, the pretended clergyman, marks his spirit and sagacity. It contains a remarkable passage. Some readers will be curious to have the productions of so celebrated a personage, who appears to have exercised considerable talents.

15th May, 1735.

Dear Sir,—I am just again going to the Lords to finish Pope. I desire you to send me the sheets to perfect the first 297 fifty books, and likewise the remaining three hundred books; and pray be at the Standard Tavern this evening, and I will pay you twenty pounds more. My defence is right; I only told the lords I did not know from whence the books came, and that my wife received them. This was strict truth, and prevented all further inquiry. The lords declared they had been made Pope’s tools. I put myself on this single point, and insisted, as there was not any Peer’s letter in the book, I had not been guilty of any breach of privilege. I depend that the books and the imperfections will be sent; and believe of P. T. what I hope he believes of me.

“For the Rev. Mr. Smith.”

The reader observes that Curll talks of a great number of books not received, and of the few which he has received, as imperfect. The fact is, the whole bubble is on the point of breaking. He, masked in the initial letters, and he, who wore the masquerade dress of a clergyman’s gown with a lawyer’s band, suddenly picked a quarrel with the duped bibliopolist: they now accuse him of a design he had of betraying them to the Lords!

The tantalized and provoked Curll then addressed the following letter to “The Rev. Mr. Smith,” which, both as a specimen of this celebrated personage’s “prose,” in which he thought himself “a match for Pope,” and exhibiting some traits of his character, will entertain the curious reader.

Friday, 16 May, 1735.

Sir,—1st, I am falsely accused. 2. I value not any man’s change of temper; I will never change my VERACITY for falsehood, in owning a fact of which I am innocent. 3. I did not own the books came from across the water, nor ever named you; all I said was, that the books came by water. 4. When the books were seized, I sent my son to convey a letter to you; and as you told me everybody knew you in Southwark, I bid him make a strict inquiry, as I am sure you would have done in such an exigency. 5. Sir, I have acted justly in this affair, and that is what I shall always think wisely. 6. I will be kept no longer in the dark; P. T. is Will o’ the Wisp; all the books I have had are imperfect; the first fifty had no titles nor prefaces; the last five bundles seized by the Lords contained but thirty-eight in each bundle, which amounts to one hundred and ninety, and fifty, is in all but two hundred 298 and forty books. 7. As to the loss of a future copy, I despise it, nor will I be concerned with any more such dark suspicious dealers. But now, sir, I’ll tell you what I will do: when I have the books perfected which I have already received, and the rest of the impression, I will pay you for them. But what do you call this usage? First take a note for a month, and then want it to be changed for one of Sir Richard Hoare’s. My note is as good, for any sum I give it, as the Bank, and shall be as punctually paid. I always say, gold is better than paper. But if this dark converse goes on, I will instantly reprint the whole book; and, as a supplement to it, all the letters P. T. ever sent me, of which I have exact copies, together with all your originals, and give them in upon oath to my Lord Chancellor. You talk of trust—P. T. has not reposed any in me, for he has my money and notes for imperfect books. Let me see, sir, either P. T. or yourself, or you’ll find the Scots proverb verified, Nemo me impune lacessit.

“Your abused humble servant,

E. Curll.

“P.S. Lord —— I attend this day. Lord Delawar I sup with to-night. Where Pope has one lord, I have twenty.”

After this, Curll announced “Mr. Pope’s Literary Correspondence, with the initial correspondence of P. T., R. S. &c.” But the shadowy correspondents now publicly declared that they could give no title whatever to Mr. Pope’s letters, with which they had furnished Curll, and never pretended any; that therefore any bookseller had the same right of printing them: and, in respect to money matters between them, he had given them notes not negotiable, and had never paid them fully for the copies, perfect and imperfect, which he had sold.

Thus terminated this dark transaction between Curll and his initial correspondents. He still persisted in printing several editions of the letters of Pope, which furnished the poet with a modest pretext to publish an authentic edition—the very point to which the whole of this dark and intricate plot seems to have been really directed.[211]

Were Pope not concerned in this mysterious transaction, how happened it that the letters which P. T. actually printed were genuine? To account for this, Pope promulgated a 299 new fact. Since the first publication of his letters to his friend Cromwell, wrenched from the distressed female who possessed them, our poet had been advised to collect his letters; and these he had preserved by inserting them in two books; either the originals or the copies. For this purpose an amanuensis or two were employed by Pope when these books were in the country, and by the Earl of Oxford when they were in town. Pope pretended that Curll’s letters had been extracted from these two books, but sometimes imperfectly transcribed, and sometimes interpolated. Pope, indeed, offered a reward of twenty pounds to “P. T.” and “R. Smith, who passed for a clergyman,” if they would come forward and discover the whole of this affair; or “if they had acted, as it was reported, by the direction of any other person.” They never appeared. Lintot, the son of the great rival of Curll, told Dr. Johnson, that his father had been offered the same parcel of printed books, and that Pope knew better than anybody else how Curll obtained the copies.

Dr. Johnson, although he appears not to have been aware of the subtle intricacy of this extraordinary plot, has justly drawn this inference: “To make the copies perfect was the only purpose of Pope, because the numbers offered for sale by the private messengers, showed that hope of gain could not have been the motive of the impression. It seems that Pope, being desirous of printing his letters, and not knowing how to do, without imputation of vanity, what has in this country been done very rarely, contrived an appearance of compulsion; when he could complain that his letters were surreptitiously printed, he might decently and defensively publish them himself.”

I have observed, how the first letter of P. T. pretending to be written by one who owed no kindness to Pope, bears the evident impression of his own hand; for it contains matters not exactly true, but exactly what Pope wished should appear in his own life. That he had prepared his letters for publication, appears by the story of the two MS. books—that the printed ones came by water, would look as if they had been sent from his house at Twickenham; and, were it not absurd to pretend to decipher initials, P. T. might be imagined to indicate the name of the owner, as well as his place of abode.

Worsdale, an indifferent painter, was a man of some humour in personating a character, for he performed Old Lady Scandal in one of his own farces. He was also a 300 literary adventurer, for, according to Mrs. Pilkington’s Memoirs, wishing to be a poet as well as a mimic, he got her and her husband to write all the verses which passed with his name; such a man was well adapted to be this clergyman with the lawyer’s band, and Worsdale has asserted that he was really employed by his friend Pope on this occasion.

Such is the intricate narrative of this involved transaction. Pope completely succeeded, by the most subtile manœuvres imaginable; the incident which perhaps was not originally expected, of having his letters brought before the examination at the House of Lords, most amply gratified his pride, and awakened public curiosity. “He made the House of Lords,” says Curll, “his tools.” Greater ingenuity, perplexity, and secrecy have scarcely been thrown into the conduct of the writer, or writers, of the Letters of Junius.




Pope attacked Cibber from personal motives—by dethroning Theobald, in the Dunciad, to substitute Cibber, he made the satire not apply—Cibber’s facetious and serious remonstrance—Cibber’s inimitable good-humour—an apology for what has been called his “effrontery”—perhaps a modest man, and undoubtedly a man of genius—his humorous defence of his deficiency in Tragedy, both in acting and writing—Pope more hurt at being exposed as a ridiculous lover than as a bad man—an account of “The Egotist, or Colley upon Cibber,” a kind of supplement to the “Apology for his life,” in which he has drawn his own character with great freedom and spirit.

Pope’s quarrel with Cibber may serve to check the haughtiness of genius; it is a remarkable instance how good-humour can gently draw a boundary round the arbitrary power, whenever the wantonness of satire would conceal calumny. But this quarrel will become even more interesting, should it throw a new light on the character of one whose originality of genius seems little suspected. Cibber showed a happy address in a very critical situation, and obtained an honourable triumph over the malice of a great genius, whom, while he complained of he admired, and almost loved the cynic.

Pope, after several “flirts,” as Cibber calls them, from slight personal motives, which Cibber has fully opened,[212] at 302 length from “peevish weakness,” as Lord Orford has happily expressed it, closed his insults by dethroning Theobald, and substituting Cibber; but as he would not lose what he had already written, this change disturbed the whole decorum of the satiric fiction. Things of opposite natures, joined into one, became the poetical chimera of Horace. The hero of the Dunciad is neither Theobald nor Cibber; Pope forced a dunce to appear as Cibber; but this was not making Cibber a dunce. This error in Pope emboldened Cibber in the contest, for he still insisted that the satire did not apply to him;[213] and humorously compared the libel “to a purge with 303 a wrong label,” and Pope “to an apothecary who did not mind his business.”[214]

Cibber triumphed in the arduous conflict—though sometimes he felt that, like the Patriarch of old, he was wrestling, not with an equal, but one of celestial race, “and the hollow of his thigh was out of joint.” Still, however, he triumphed, by that singular felicity of character, that inimitable gaieté de cœur, that honest simplicity of truth, from which flowed so warm an admiration of the genius of his adversary; and that exquisite tact in the characters of men, which carried down this child of airy humour to the verge of his ninetieth year, with all the enjoyments of strong animal spirits, and all that innocent egotism which became frequently a source of his own raillery.[215] He has applied to himself the epithet “impenetrable,” which was probably in the mind of Johnson when he noticed his “impenetrable impudence.” A critic has charged him with “effrontery.”[216] Critics are apt to admit 304 too much of traditional opinion into their own; it is necessary sometimes to correct the knowledge we receive. For my part, I can almost believe that Cibber was a modest man![217] 305 as he was most certainly a man of genius. Cibber had lived a dissipated life, and his philosophical indifference, with his careless gaiety, was the breastplate which even the wit of Pope failed to pierce. During twenty years’ persecution for his unlucky Odes, he never lost his temper; he would read to his friends the best things pointed against them, with all the spirit the authors could wish; and would himself write 306 epigrams for the pleasure of hearing them repeated while sitting in coffee-houses; and whenever they were applauded as “Palpable hits!”—“Keen!”—“Things with a spirit in them!”—he enjoyed these attacks on himself by himself.[218] If this be vanity, it is at least “Cibberian.”

It was, indeed, the singularity of his personal character which so long injured his genius, and laid him open to the perpetual attacks of his contemporaries,[219] who were mean enough to ridicule undisguised foibles, but dared not be just to the redeeming virtues of his genius. Yet his genius far exceeded his literary frailties. He knew he was no poet, yet he would string wretched rhymes, even when not salaried for them; and once wrote an Essay on Cicero’s character, for which his dotage was scarcely an apology;—so much he preferred amusement to prudence.[220] Another foible was to act tragedies with a squeaking voice[221], and to write them with a 307 genius about the same size for the sublime; but the malice of his contemporaries seemed to forget that he was creating new dramatic existences in the exquisite personifications of his comic characters; and was producing some of our standard comedies, composed with such real genius, that they still support the reputation of the English stage.

In the “Apology for his Life,” Cibber had shown himself a generous and an ill-treated adversary, and at all times was prodigal of his eulogiums, even after the death of Pope; but, when remonstrance and good temper failed to sheathe with their oil the sharp sting of the wasp, as his weakest talent was not the ludicrous, he resolved to gain the laughers over, 308 and threw Pope into a very ridiculous attitude.[222] It was extorted from Cibber by this insulting line of Pope’s:—

And has not Colley, too, his Lord and w—e?

It seems that Pope had once the same! But a ridiculous story, suited to the taste of the loungers, nettled Pope more than the keener remonstrances and the honest truths which Cibber has urged. Those who write libels, invite imitation.

Besides the two letters addressed by Cibber to Pope, this quarrel produced a moral trifle, or rather a philosophical curiosity, respecting Cibber’s own character, which is stamped with the full impression of all its originality.

The title, so expressive of its design, and the whim and good-humour of the work, which may be considered as a curious supplement to the “Apology for his Life,” could scarcely have been imagined, and most certainly could not have been executed, but by the genius who dared it. I give the title in the note.[223] It is a curious exemplification of what Shaftesbury has so fancifully described as “self-inspection.” This little work is a conversation between “Mr. Frankly and his old acquaintance, Colley Cibber.” Cibber had the spirit of making this Mr. Frankly speak the bitterest things against himself; and he must have been an attentive reader of all the keenest reproaches his enemies ever had 309 thrown out. This caustic censor is not a man of straw, set up to be easily knocked down. He has as much vivacity and wit as Cibber himself, and not seldom has the better of the argument. But the gravity and the levity blended in this little piece form admirable contrasts: and Cibber, in this varied effusion, acquires all our esteem for that open simplicity, that unalterable good-humour which flowed from nature, and that fine spirit that touches everything with life; yet, as he himself confesses, the main accusation of Mr. Frankly, that “his philosophical air will come out at last mere vanity in masquerade,” may be true.

I will attempt to collect some specimens of this extraordinary production, because they harmonise with the design of the present work, and afford principles, in regard to preserving an equability of temper, which may guide us in Literary Quarrels.

Frankly observes, on Cibber’s declaration that he is not uneasy at Pope’s satire, that “no blockhead is so dull as not to be sore when he is called so; and (you’ll excuse me) if that were to be your own case, why should we believe you would not be as uneasy at it as another blockhead?

Author. This is pushing me pretty home indeed; but I wont give out. For as it is not at all inconceivable, that a blockhead of my size may have a particular knack of doing some useful thing that might puzzle a wiser man to be master of, will not that blockhead still have something in him to be conceited of? If so, allow me but the vanity of supposing I may have had some such possible knack, and you will not wonder (though in many other points I may still be a blockhead) that I may, notwithstanding, be contented with my condition.

Frankly. Is it not commendable, in a man of parts, to be warmly concerned for his reputation?

Author. In what regards his honesty or honour, I will make some allowance; but for the reputation of his parts, not one tittle.

Frankly. How! not to be concerned for what half the learned world are in a continual war about.

Author. So are another half about religion; but neither Turk or Pope, swords or anathemas, can alter truth! There it stands! always visible to reason, self-defended and immovable! Whatever it was, or is, it ever will be! As no attack can alter, so no defence can add to its proportion.


Frankly. At this rate, you pronounce all controversies in wit to be either needless or impertinent.

Author. When one in a hundred happens not to be so, or to make amends for being either by its pleasantry, we ought in justice to allow it a great rarity. A reply to a just satire or criticism will seldom be thought better of.

Frankly. May not a reply be a good one?

Author. Yes, but never absolutely necessary; for as your work (or reputation) must have been good or bad, before it was censured, your reply to that censure could not alter it: it would still be but what it was. If it was good, the attack could not hurt it: if bad, the reply could not mend it.[224]

Frankly. But slander is not always so impotent as you seem to suppose it; men of the best sense may be misled by it, or, by their not inquiring after truth, may never come at it; and the vulgar, as they are less apt to be good than ill-natured, often mistake malice for wit, and have an uncharitable joy in commending it. Now, when this is the case, is not a tame silence, upon being satirically libelled, as liable to be thought guilt or stupidity, as to be the result of innocence or temper?—Self-defence is a very natural and just excuse for a reply.

Author. Be it so! But still that does not always make it necessary; for though slander, by their not weighing it, may pass upon some few people of sense for truth, and might draw great numbers of the vulgar into its party, the mischief 311 can never be of long duration. A satirical slander, that has no truth to support it, is only a great fish upon dry land: it may flounce and fling, and make a fretful pother, but it wont bite you; you need not knock it on the head; it will soon lie still, and die quietly of itself.

Frankly. The single-sheet critics will find you employment.

Author. Indeed they wont. I’m not so mad as to think myself a match for the invulnerable.

Frankly. Have a care; there’s Foulwit; though he can’t feel, he can bite.

Author. Ay, so will bugs and fleas; but that’s only for sustenance: everything must feed, you know; and your creeping critics are a sort of vermin, that if they could come to a king, would not spare him; yet, whenever they can persuade others to laugh at their jest upon me, I will honestly make one of the number; but I must ask their pardon, if that should be all the reply I can afford them.”

This “boy of seventy odd,” for such he was when he wrote “The Egotist,” unfolds his character by many lively personal touches. He declares he could not have “given the world so finished a coxcomb as Lord Foppington, if he had not found a good deal of the same stuff in himself to make him with.” He addresses “A Postscript, To those few unfortunate Readers and Writers who may not have more sense than the Author:” and he closes, in all the fulness of his spirit, with a piece of consolation for those who are so cruelly attacked by superior genius.

“Let us then, gentlemen, who have the misfortune to lie thus at the mercy of those whose natural parts happen to be stronger than our own—let us, I say, make the most of our sterility! Let us double and treble the ranks of our thickness, that we may form an impregnable phalanx, and stand every way in front to the enemy! or, would you still be liable to less hazard, lay but yourselves down, as I do, flat and quiet upon your faces, when Pride, Malice, Envy, Wit, or Prejudice let fly their formidable shot at you, what odds is it they don’t all whistle over your head? Thus, too, though we may want the artillery of missive wit to make reprisals, we may at least in security bid them kiss the tails we have turned to them. Who knows but, by this our supine, or rather prone serenity, their disappointed valour may become their own vexation? Or let us yet, at worst, but solidly stand our ground, like so many defensive stone-posts, and we may defy the 312 proudest Jehu of them all to drive over us. Thus, gentlemen, you see that Insensibility is not without its comforts; and as I give you no worse advice than I have taken myself, and found my account in, I hope you will have the hardness to follow it, for your own good and the glory of

“Your impenetrable humble servant,

“C. C.”

After all, one may perceive, that though the good-humour of poor Cibber was real, still the immortal satire of Pope had injured his higher feelings. He betrays his secret grief at his close, while he seems to be sporting with his pen; and though he appears to confide in the falsity of the satire as his best chance for saving him from it, still he feels that the caustic ink of such a satirist must blister and spot wherever it falls. The anger of Warburton, and the sternness of Johnson, who seem always to have considered an actor as an inferior being among men of genius, have degraded Cibber. They never suspected that “a blockhead of his size could do what wiser men could not,” and, as a fine comic genius, command a whole province in human nature.



The quarrel between Pope and Addison originated in one of the infirmities of genius—a subject of inquiry even after their death, by Sir William Blackstone—Pope courts Addison—suspects Addison of jealousy—Addison’s foible to be considered a great poet—interview between the rivals, of which the result was the portrait of Atticus, for which Addison was made to sit.

Among the Literary Quarrels of Pope one acquires dignity and interest from the characters of both parties. It closed by producing the severest, but the most masterly portrait of one man of genius, composed by another, which has ever been hung on the satiric Parnassus for the contemplation of ages. Addison must descend to posterity with the dark spots of Atticus staining a purity of character which had nearly proved immaculate.

The friendship between Pope and Addison was interrupted by one of the infirmities of genius. Tempers of watchful delicacy gather up in silence and darkness motives so shadowy in their origin, and of such minute growth, that, never breaking out into any open act, they escape all other eyes but those of the parties themselves. These causes of enmity are too subtle to bear the touch; they cannot be inquired after, nor can they be described; and it may be said that the minds of such men have rather quarrelled than they themselves: they utter no complaints, but they avoid each other. All the world perceived that two authors of the finest genius had separated from motives on which both were silent, but which had evidently operated with equal force on both. Their admirers were very general, and at a time when literature divided with politics the public interest, the best feelings of the nation were engaged in tracking the obscure commencements and the secret growth of this literary quarrel, in which the amiable and moral qualities of Addison, and the gratitude and honour of Pope, were equally involved. The friends of either party pretended that their chiefs entertained a reciprocal regard for each other, while the illustrious characters themselves were 314 living in a state of hostility. Even long after these literary heroes were departed, the same interest was general among the lovers of literature; but those obscure motives which had only influenced two minds—those imperceptible events, which are only events as they are watched by the jealousy of genius—eluded the most anxious investigation. Yet so lasting and so powerful was the interest excited by this literary quarrel, that, within a few years, the elegant mind of Sir William Blackstone withdrew from the severity of profounder studies to inquire into the causes of a quarrel which was still exciting the most opposite opinions. Blackstone has judged and summed up; but though he evidently inclines to favour Addison, by throwing into the balance some explanation for the silence of Addison against the audible complaints of Pope; though sometimes he pleads as well as judges, and infers as well as proves; yet even Blackstone has not taken on himself to deliver a decision. His happy genius has only honoured literary history by the masterly force and luminous arrangement of investigation, to which, since the time of Bayle, it has been too great a stranger.[225]

At this day, removed from all personal influence and affections, and furnished with facts which contemporaries could not command, we take no other concern in this literary quarrel but as far as curiosity and truth delight us in the study of human nature. We are now of no party—we are only historians!

Pope was a young writer when introduced to Addison by the intervention of that generously-minded friend of both, Steele. Addison eulogised Pope’s “Essay on Criticism;” and this fine genius covering with his wing an unfledged bardling, conferred a favour which, in the estimation of a poet, claims a life of indelible gratitude.

Pope zealously courted Addison by his poetical aid on several important occasions; he gave all the dignity that fine poetry could confer on the science of medals, which Addison had written on, and wrote the finest prologue in the language for the Whig tragedy of his friend. Dennis attacked, 315 and Pope defended Cato[226]. Addison might have disapproved both of the manner and the matter of the defence; but he did more—he insulted Pope by a letter to Dennis, which Dennis eagerly published as Pope’s severest condemnation. An alienation of friendship must have already taken place, but by no overt act on Pope’s side.

Not that, however, Pope had not found his affections weakened: the dark hints scattered in his letters show that something was gathering in his mind. Warburton, from his familiar intercourse with Pope, must be allowed to have known his literary concerns more than any one; and when he drew up the narrative,[227] seems to me to have stated uncouthly, but expressively, the progressive state of Pope’s feelings. According to that narrative, Pope “reflected,” that after he had first published “The Rape of the Lock,” then nothing more than a hasty jeu d’esprit, when he communicated to Addison his very original project of the whole sylphid machinery, Addison chilled the ardent bard with his coldness, advised him against any alteration, and to leave it as “a delicious little thing, merum sal.” It was then, says Warburton, “Mr. Pope began to open his eyes to Addison’s character.” But when afterwards he discovered that Tickell’s 316 Homer was opposed to his, and judged, as Warburton says, “by laying many odd circumstances together,” that Addison,[228] and not Tickell, was the author—the alienation on Pope’s side was complete. No open breach indeed had yet taken place between the rival authors, who, as jealous of dominion as two princes, would still demonstrate, in their public edicts, their inviolable regard; while they were only watching the advantageous moment when they might take arms against each other.

Still Addison publicly bestowed great encomiums on Pope’s Iliad, although he had himself composed the rival version, and in private preferred his own.[229] He did this with the same ease he had continued its encouragement while Pope was employed on it. We are astonished to discover such deep politics among literary Machiavels! Addison had certainly raised up a literary party. Sheridan, who wrote nearly with the knowledge of a contemporary, in his “Life of Swift,” would naturally use the language and the feelings of the time; and in describing Ambrose Phillips, he adds, he was “one of Mr. Addison’s little senate.”

But in this narrative I have dropt some material parts. Pope believed that Addison had employed Gildon to write against him, and had encouraged Phillips to asperse his character.[230] We cannot, now, quite demonstrate these alleged facts; but we can show that Pope believed them, and that Addison does not appear to have refuted them.[231] Such tales, whether 317 entirely false or partially true, may be considered in this inquiry of little amount. The greater events must regulate the lesser ones.[232]

Was Addison, then, jealous of Pope? Addison, in every respect, then, his superior; of established literary fame when Pope was yet young; preceding him in age and rank; and fortunate in all the views of human ambition. But what if Addison’s foible was that of being considered a great poet? His political poetry had raised him to an undue elevation, and the growing celebrity of Pope began to offend him, not with the appearance of a meek rival, with whom he might have held divided empire, but as a master-spirit, that was preparing to reign alone. It is certain that Addison was the most feeling man alive at the fate of his poetry. At the representation of his Cato, such was his agitation, that had Cato been condemned, the life of Addison might, too, have been shortened. When a wit had burlesqued some lines of this dramatic poem, his uneasiness at the innocent banter was 318 equally oppressive; nor could he rest, till, by the interposition of a friend, he prevailed upon the author to burn them.[233]

To the facts already detailed, and to this disposition in Addison’s temper, and to the quick and active suspicions of Pope, irritable, and ambitious of all the sovereignty of poetry, we may easily conceive many others of those obscure motives, and invisible events, which none but Pope, alienated every day more and more from his affections for Addison, too acutely perceived, too profoundly felt, and too unmercifully avenged. These are alluded to when the satirist sings—

Damn with faint praise; assent with civil leer;
And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike;
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike, &c.

Accusations crowded faster than the pen could write them down. Pope never composed with more warmth. No one can imagine that Atticus was an ideal personage, touched as it is with all the features of an extraordinary individual. In a word, it was recognised instantly by the individual himself; and it was suppressed by Pope for near twenty years, before he suffered it to escape to the public.

It was some time during their avowed rupture, for the exact period has not been given, that their friends promoted a meeting between these two great men. After a mutual lustration, it was imagined they might have expiated their error, and have been restored to their original purity. The interview did take place between the rival wits, and was productive of some very characteristic ebullitions, strongly corroborative of the facts as they have been stated here. This extraordinary interview has been frequently alluded to. There can be no doubt of the genuineness of the narrative but I know not on what authority it came into the world.[234]


The interview between Addison and Pope took place in the presence of Steele and Gay. They met with cold civility. Addison’s reserve wore away, as was usual with him, when wine and conversation imparted some warmth to his native phlegm. At a moment the generous Steele deemed auspicious, he requested Addison would perform his promise in renewing his friendship with Pope. Pope expressed his desire: he said he was willing to hear his faults, and preferred candour and severity rather than forms of complaisance; but he spoke in a manner as conceiving Addison, and not himself, had been the aggressor. So much like their humblest inferiors do great men act under the influence of common passions: Addison was overcome with anger, which cost him an effort to suppress; but, in the formal speech he made, he reproached Pope with indulging a vanity that far exceeded his merit; that he had not yet attained to the excellence he imagined; and observed, that his verses had a different air when Steele and himself corrected them; and, on this occasion, reminded Pope of a particular line which Steele had improved in the “Messiah.”[235] Addison seems at that moment 320 to have forgotten that he had trusted, for the last line of his own dramatic poem, rather to the inspiration of the poet he was so contemptuously lecturing than to his own.[236] He proceeded with detailing all the abuse the herd of scribblers had heaped on Pope; and by declaring that his Homer was “an ill-executed thing,” and Tickell’s had all the spirit. We are told, he concluded “in a low hollow voice of feigned temper,” in which he asserted that he had ceased to be solicitous about his own poetical reputation since he had entered into more public affairs; but, from friendship for Pope, desired him to be more humble, if he wished to appear a better man to the world.

When Addison had quite finished schooling his little rebel, Gay, mild and timid (for it seems, with all his love for Pope, his expectations from the court, from Addison’s side, had tethered his gentle heart), attempted to say something. But Pope, in a tone far more spirited than all of them, without reserve told Addison that he appealed from his judgment, and did not esteem him able to correct his verses; upbraided him as a pensioner from early youth, directing the learning which had been obtained by the public money to his own selfish desire of power, and that he “had always endeavoured to cut down new-fledged merit.” The conversation now became a contest, and was broken up without ceremony. Such was the notable interview between two rival wits, which only ended in strengthening their literary quarrel; and sent back the enraged satirist to his inkstand, where he composed a portrait, for which Addison was made to sit, with the fine chiar’ oscuro of Horace, and with as awful and vindictive features as the sombre hand of Juvenal could have designed.



Lord Bolingbroke affects violent resentment for Pope’s pretended breach of confidence in having printed his “Patriot King”—Warburton’s apology for Pope’s disinterested intentions—Bolingbroke instigates Mallet to libel Pope, after the poet’s death—The real motive for libelling Pope was Bolingbroke’s personal hatred of Warburton, for the ascendancy the latter had obtained over the poet—Some account of their rival conflicts—Bolingbroke had unsettled Pope’s religious opinions, and Warburton had confirmed his faith—Pope, however, refuses to abjure the Catholic religion—Anecdote of Pope’s anxiety respecting a future state—Mallet’s intercourse with Pope: anecdote of “The Apollo Vision,” where Mallet mistook a sarcasm for a compliment—Mallet’s character—Why Leonidas Glover declined writing the Life of Marlborough—Bolingbroke’s character hit off—Warburton, the concealed object of this posthumous quarrel with Pope.

On the death of Pope, 1500 copies of one of Lord Bolingbroke’s works, “The Patriot King,” were discovered to have been secretly printed by Pope, but never published. The honest printer presented the whole to his lordship, who burned the edition in his gardens at Battersea. The MS. had been delivered to our poet by his lordship, with a request to print a few copies for its better preservation, and for the use of a few friends.

Bolingbroke affected to feel the most lively resentment for what he chose to stigmatise as “a breach of confidence.” “His thirst of vengeance,” said Johnson, “incited him to blast the memory of the man over whom he had wept in his last struggles; and he employed Mallet, another friend of Pope, to tell the tale to the public with all its aggravations. Warburton, whose heart was warm with his legacy, and tender by the recent separation,” apologised for Pope. The irregular conduct which Bolingbroke stigmatised as a breach of trust, was attributed to a desire of perpetuating the work of his friend, who might have capriciously destroyed it. Our poet could have no selfish motive; he could not gratify his vanity by publishing the work as his own, nor his avarice by 322 its sale, which could never have taken place till the death of its author; a circumstance not likely to occur during Pope’s lifetime.[237]

The vindictive rage of Bolingbroke; the bitter invective he permitted Mallet to publish, as the editor of his works; and the two anonymous pamphlets of the latter, which I have noticed in the article of Warburton; are effects much too disproportionate to the cause which is usually assigned. Johnson does not develope the secret motives of what he has energetically termed “Bolingbroke’s thirst of vengeance.” He and Mallet carried their secret revenge beyond all bounds: the lordly stoic and the irritated bardling, under the cloak of anonymous calumny, have but ill-concealed the malignity of their passions. Let anonymous calumniators recollect, in the midst of their dark work, that if they escape the detection of their contemporaries, their reputation, if they have any to lose, will not probably elude the researches of the historian;—a fatal witness against them at the tribunal of posterity.

The preface of Mallet to the “Patriot King” of Bolingbroke, produced a literary quarrel; and more pamphlets than perhaps I have discovered were published on this occasion.

Every lover of literature was indignant to observe that the vain and petulant Mallet, under the protection of Pope’s

Guide, philosopher, and friend!

should have been permitted to have aspersed Pope with the most degrading language. Pope is here always designated as “This Man.” Thus “This Man was no sooner dead than Lord Bolingbroke received information that an entire edition of 1500 copies of these papers had been printed; that this very Man had corrected the press, &c.” Could one imagine that this was the Tully of England, describing our Virgil? For Mallet was but the mouthpiece of Bolingbroke.

After a careful detection of many facts concerning the parties now before us, I must attribute the concealed motive 323 of this outrage on Pope to the election the dying poet made of Warburton as his editor. A mortal hatred raged between Bolingbroke and Warburton. The philosophical lord had seen the mighty theologian ravish the prey from his grasp. Although Pope held in idolatrous veneration the genius of Bolingbroke, yet had this literary superstition been gradually enlightened by the energy of Warburton. They were his good and his evil genii in a dreadful conflict, wrestling to obtain the entire possession of the soul of the mortal. Bolingbroke and Warburton one day disputed before Pope, and parted never to meet again. The will of Pope bears the trace of his divided feelings: he left his MSS. to Bolingbroke as his executor, but his works to Warburton as his editor. The secret history of Bolingbroke and Warburton with Pope is little known: the note will supply it.[238]


But how did the puny Mallet stand connected with these great men? By the pamphlets published during this literary quarrel he appears to have enjoyed a more intimate intercourse with them than is known. In one of them he is characterised “as a fellow who, while Mr. Pope lived, was as diligent in licking his feet, as he is now in licking your lordship’s; and who, for the sake of giving himself an air of importance, in being joined with you, and for the vanity of saying ‘the Author and I,’—‘the Editor and me,’—has sacrificed all his pretensions to friendship, honour, and humanity.”[239] An anecdote in this pamphlet assigns a sufficient motive to excite some wrath in a much less irritable animal than the self-important editor of Bolingbroke’s Works. The anecdote may be distinguished as


“The editor (Mallet) being in company with the person to whom Mr. Pope has consigned the care of his works (Warburton), and who, he thought, had some intention of writing Mr. Pope’s life, told him he had an anecdote, which he believed nobody knew but himself. I was sitting one day (said he) with Mr. Pope, in his last illness, who coming suddenly out of a reverie, which you know he frequently fell into at that time, and fixing his eyes steadfastly upon me; ‘Mr. M. (said he), I have had an odd kind of vision. Methought I saw my own head open, and Apollo came out of it; I then saw your head open, and Apollo went into it; after which our heads closed up again.’ The gentleman (Warburton) could not help smiling at his vanity; and with some humour replied, ‘Why, sir, if I had an intention of writing your life, this 325 might perhaps be a proper anecdote; but I don’t see, that in Mr. Pope’s it will be of any consequence at all.’” P. 14.

This exhibits a curious instance of an author’s egotism, or rather of Mallet’s conceit, contriving, by some means, to have his name slide into the projected Life of Pope by Warburton, who appears, however, always to have treated him with the contempt Pope himself evidently did.[240] What opinion could the 326 poet have entertained of the taste of that weak and vain critic, who, when Pope published anonymously “The Essay on Man,” being asked if anything new had appeared, replied that he had looked over a thing called an “Essay on Man,” but, discovering the utter want of skill and knowledge in the author, had thrown it aside. Pope mortified him by confiding to him the secret.

“The Apollo Vision” was a stinging anecdote, and it came from Warburton either directly or indirectly. This was followed 327 up by “A Letter to the Editor of the Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism, the Idea of a Patriot King,” &c., a dignified remonstrance of Warburton himself; but “The Impostor Detected and Convicted, or the Principles and Practices of the Author of the Spirit of Patriotism (Lord Bolingbroke) set forth in a clear light, in a Letter to a Member of Parliament in Town, from his Friend in the Country, 1749,” is a remarkable production. Lord Bolingbroke is the impostor and the concealed Jacobite. Time, the ablest critic on these party productions, has verified the predictions of this seer. We discover here, too, a literary fact, which is necessary to complete our present history. It seems that there were omissions and corrections in the edition Pope printed of “The Patriot King,” which his caution or his moderation prompted, and which such a political demagogue as Bolingbroke never forgave. They are thus alluded to: “Lord B. may remember” (from a conversation held, at which the writer appears to have been present), “that a difference in opinion prevailed, and a few points were urged by that gentleman (Pope) in opposition to some particular tenets which related to the limitation of the English monarchy, and to the ideal doctrine of a patriot king. These were Mr. P.’s reasons for the emendations he made; and which, together with the consideration that both their lives were at that time in a declining state, was the true cause, and no other, of his care to preserve those letters, by handing them to the press, with the precaution mentioned by the author.” Indeed the cry raised against the dead man by Bolingbroke and Mallet, was an artificial one: that it should ever have tainted the honour of the bard, or that it should ever have been excited by his “Philosopher and Friend,” are equally strange; it is possible that the malice of Mallet was more at work than that of Bolingbroke, who suffered himself to be the dupe of a man held in contempt by Pope, by Warburton, and by others. But the pamphlet I have just noticed might have enraged Bolingbroke, because his true character is ably drawn in it. The writer says that “a person in an eminent station of life abroad, when Lord B—— was at Paris to transact a certain affair, said, C’est certainement un homme d’esprit, mais un coquin sans probité.” This was a very disagreeable truth!

In one of these pamphlets, too, Bolingbroke was mortified at his dignity being lessened by the writer, in comparing his lordship with their late friend Pope.—“I venture to foretell, 328 that the name of Mr. Pope, in spite of your unmanly endeavours, shall revive and blossom in the dust, from his own merits; and presume to remind you, that yours, had it not been for his genius, his friendship, his idolatrous veneration for you, might, in a short course of years, have died and been forgotten.” Whatever the degree of genius Bolingbroke may claim, doubtless the verse of Pope has embalmed his fame. I have never been able to discover the authors of these pamphlets, who all appear of the first rank, and who seem to have written under the eye of Warburton. The awful and vindictive Bolingbroke, and the malignant and petulant Mallet, did not long brood over their anger: he or they gave it vent on the head of Warburton, in those two furious pamphlets, which I have noticed in the “Quarrels of Warburton.” All these pamphlets were published in the same year, 1749, so that it is now difficult to arrange them according to their priority. Enough has been shown to prove, that the loud outcry of Bolingbroke and Mallet, in their posthumous attack on Pope, arose from their unforgiving malice against him, for the preference by which the poet had distinguished Warburton; and that Warburton, much more than Pope, was the real object of this masked battery.


An odd sort of a literary curiosity has fallen in my way. It throws some light on the history of the heroes of the Dunciad; but such minutiæ literariæ are only for my bibliographical readers.

It is a book of accounts, which belonged to the renowned Bernard Lintot, the bookseller, whose character has been so humorously preserved by Pope, in a dialogue which the poet has given as having passed between them in Windsor Forest. The book is entitled “Copies, when Purchased.” The power of genius is exemplified in the ledger of the bookseller as much as in any other book; and while I here discover, that the moneys received even by such men of genius as Gay, Farquhar, Cibber, and Dr. King, amount to small sums, and such authors as Dennis, Theobald, Ozell, and Toland, scarcely amount to anything, that of Pope much exceeds 4000l.

I am not in all cases confident of the nature of these 329 “Copies purchased;” those works which were originally published by Lintot may be considered as purchased at the sums specified: some few might have been subsequent to their first edition. The guinea, at that time, passing for twenty-one shillings and sixpence, has occasioned the fractions.

I transcribe Pope’s account. Here it appears that he sold “The Key to the Lock” and “Parnell’s Poems.” The poem entitled, “To the Author of a Poem called Successio,” appears to have been written by Pope, and has escaped the researches of his editors. The smaller poems were contributed to a volume of Poetical Miscellanies, published by Lintot.[241]


19 Feb. 1711-12.
Statius, First Book}1626
Vertumnus and Pomona}
21 March, 1711-12.
First Edition Rape700
9 April, 1712.
To a Lady presenting Voiture}
Upon Silence}3166
To the Author of a Poem called Successio}
23 Feb. 1712-13.
Windsor Forest3250
23 July, 1713.
Ode on St. Cecilia’s day1500
20th Feb. 1713-14.
Additions to the Rape1500
1 Feb. 1714-15.
Temple of Fame3250
30 April, 1715.
Key to the Lock10150
17 July, 1716.
Essay on Criticism[242]1500
13 Dec. 1721.
Parnell’s Poems1500
23 March, 1713.
Homer, vol. i.21500
650 books on royal paper17600
9 Feb. 1715-16.
Homer, vol. ii.21500
7 May, 1716.
650 royal paper15000
This article is repeated to the sixth volume of of Homer. To which is to be added another sum of 840l., paid for an assignment of all the copies. The whole of this part of the account amounting to320340
Copy-moneys for the Odyssey, vols. i. ii. iii., and 750 of each vol. royal paper, 4to.61560
Ditto for the vols. iv. v. and 750 do.42518


12 May, 1713.
Wife of Bath2500
11 Nov. 1714.
Letter to a Lady576
14 Feb. 1714.
The What d’ye call it?1626
22 Dec. 1715.
Epistle to the Earl of Burlington10150
4 May, 1717.
Battle of the Frogs1626
8 Jan. 1717.
Three Hours after Marriage4326
The Mohocks, a Farce, 2l. 10s.
(Sold the Mohocks to him again.[243])
Revival of the Wife of Bath7500


Feb. 24, 1703-4.
Liberty Asserted, one half share[245]730
10 Nov. 1708.
Appius and Virginia21100
25 April, 1711.
Essay on Public Spirit2126
6 Jan. 1711.
Remarks on Pope’s Essay2126

Dennis must have sold himself to criticism from ill-nature, and not for pay. One is surprised that his two tragedies should have been worth a great deal more than his criticism. Criticism was then worth no more than too frequently it deserves; Dr. Sewel, for his “Observations on the Tragedy of Jane Shore,” received only a guinea.

I had suggested a doubt whether Theobald attempted to translate from the original Greek: one would suppose he did by the following entry, which has a line drawn through it, as if the agreement had not been executed. Perhaps Lintot submitted to pay Theobald for not doing the Odyssey when Pope undertook it.


23 May, 1713.
Plato’s Phædon576
For Æsculus’s Trag.116
being part of Ten Guineas.
12 June, 1714.
La Motte’s Homer346

April 21, 1714. Articles signed by Mr. Theobald, to translate for B. Lintot the 24 books of Homer’s Odyssey into English blank verse. Also the four Tragedies of Sophocles, called Œdipus Tyrannus, Œdipus Coloneus, Trachiniæ, and Philoctetes, into English blank verse, with Explanatory 332 Notes to the twenty-four Books of the Odyssey, and to the four Tragedies. To receive, for translating every 450 Greek verses, with Explanatory Notes thereon, the sum of 2l. 10s.

To translate likewise the Satires and Epistles of Horace into English rhyme. For every 120 Latin lines so translated, the sum of 1l. 1s. 6d.

These Articles to be performed, according to the time specified, under the penalty of fifty pounds, payable by either party’s default in performance.

Paid in hand, 2l. 10s.

It appears that Toland never got above 5l., 10l., or 20l., for his publications. See his article in “Calamities of Authors,” p. 155. I discovered the humiliating conditions that attended his publications, from an examination of his original papers. All this author seems to have reaped from a life devoted to literary enterprise, and philosophy, and patriotism, appears not to have exceeded 200l.

Here, too, we find that the facetious Dr. King threw away all his sterling wit for five miserable pounds, though “The Art of Cookery,” and that of “Love,” obtained a more honourable price. But a mere school-book probably inspired our lively genius with more real facetiousness than any of those works which communicate so much to others.

18 Feb. 1707-8.
Paid for Art of Cookery3250
16 Feb. 1708-9.
Paid for the First Part of Transactions500
Paid for his Art of Love3250
23 June, 1709.
Paid for the Second Part of the Transactions[246]500
4 March, 1709-10.
Paid for the History of Cajamai500
10 Nov. 1710.
Paid for King’s Gods5000
1 July, 1712.
Useful Miscellany, Part I116
Paid for the Useful Miscellany300

Lintot utters a groan over “The Duke of Buckingham’s Works” (Sheffield), for “having been jockeyed of them by Alderman Barber and Tonson.” Who can ensure literary celebrity? No bookseller would now regret being jockeyed out of his Grace’s works!

The history of plays appears here somewhat curious:—tragedies, then the fashionable dramas, obtained a considerable 333 price; for though Dennis’s luckier one reached only to 21l., Dr. Young’s Busiris acquired 84l. Smith’s Phædra and Hippolytus, 50l.; Rowe’s Jane Shore, 50l. 15s.; and Jane Gray, 75l. 5s. Cibber’s Nonjuror obtained 105l. for the copyright.

Is it not a little mortifying to observe, that among all these customers of genius whose names enrich the ledger of the bookseller, Jacob, that “blunderbuss of law,” while his law-books occupy in space as much as Mr. Pope’s works, the amount of his account stands next in value, far beyond many a name which has immortalised itself!


We find by the first edition of Lintot’s “Miscellaneous Poems,” that the anonymous lines “To the Author of a Poem called Successio,” was a literary satire by Pope, written when he had scarcely attained his fourteenth year. This satire, the first probably he wrote for the press, and in which he has succeeded so well, that it might have induced him to pursue the bent of his genius, merits preservation. The juvenile composition bears the marks of his future excellences: it has the tune of his verse, and the images of his wit. Thirty years afterwards, when occupied by the Dunciad, he transplanted and pruned again some of the original images.

The hero of this satire is Elkanah Settle. The subject is one of those Whig poems, designed to celebrate the happiness of an uninterrupted “Succession” in the Crown, at the time the Act of Settlement passed, which transferred it to the Hanoverian line. The rhymer and his theme were equally contemptible to the juvenile Jacobite poet.

The hoarse and voluminous Codrus of Juvenal aptly designates this eternal verse-maker;—one who has written with such constant copiousness, that no bibliographer has presumed to form a complete list of his works.[247]

When Settle had outlived his temporary rivalship with Dryden, and was reduced to mere Settle, he published party-poems, in folio, composed in Latin, accompanied by his own translations. These folio poems, uniformly bound, except that the arms of his patrons, or rather his purchasers, richly 334 gilt, emblazon the black morocco, may still be found. These presentation-copies were sent round to the chiefs of the party, with a mendicant’s petition, of which some still exist. To have a clear conception of the present views of some politicians, it is necessary to read their history backwards. In 1702, when Settle published “Successio,” he must have been a Whig. In 1685 he was a Tory, commemorating, by a heroic poem, the coronation of James II., and writing periodically against the Whigs. In 1680 he had left the Tories for the Whigs, and conducted the whole management of burning the Pope, then a very solemn national ceremony.[248] A Whig, a pope-burner, and a Codrus, afforded a full draught of inspiration to the nascent genius of our youthful satirist.

Settle, in his latter state of wretchedness, had one standard elegy and epithalamium printed off with blanks. By the ingenious contrivance of inserting the name of any considerable person who died or was married, no one who had gone out of the world or was entering into it but was equally welcome to this dinnerless livery-man of the draggled-tailed Muses. I have elsewhere noticed his last exit from this state of poetry and of pauperism, when, leaping into a green dragon which his own creative genius had invented, in a theatrical booth, Codrus, in hissing flames and terrifying-morocco folds, discovered “the fate of talents misapplied!”


Begone, ye critics, and restrain your spite;
Codrus writes on, and will for ever write.
The heaviest Muse the swiftest course has gone,
As clocks run fastest when most lead is on.[249] 335
What though no bees around your cradle flew,
Nor on your lips distill’d their golden dew;
Yet have we oft discover’d in their stead,
A swarm of drones that buzz’d about your head.
When you, like Orpheus, strike the warbling lyre,
Attentive blocks stand round you, and admire.
Wit past through thee no longer is the same,
As meat digested takes a different name;[250]
But sense must sure thy safest plunder be,
Since no reprisals can be made on thee.
Thus thou mayst rise, and in thy daring flight
(Though ne’er so weighty) reach a wondrous height:
So, forced from engines, lead itself can fly,
And pond’rous slugs move nimbly through the sky.[251]
Sure Bavius copied Mævius to the full,
And Chærilus[252] taught Codrus to be dull;
Therefore, dear friend, at my advice give o’er
This needless labour, and contend no more
To prove a dull Succession to be true,
Since ’tis enough we find it so in you.



The Royal Society at first opposed from various quarters—their Experimental Philosophy supplants the Aristotelian methods—suspected of being the concealed Advocates of Popery, Arbitrary Power, and Atheism—disappointments incurred by their promises—the simplicity of the early Inquirers—ridiculed by the Wits and others—Narrative of a quarrel between a Member of the Royal Society and an Aristotelian—Glanvill writes his “Plus Ultra,” to show the Improvements of Modern Knowledge—Character of Stubbe of Warwick—his Apology, from himself—opposes the “Plus Ultra” by the “Plus Ultra reduced to a Nonplus”—his “Campanella revived”—the Political Projects of Campanella—Stubbe persecuted, and menaced to be publicly whipped; his Roman spirit—his “Legends no Histories”—his “Censure on some Passages of the History of the Royal Society”—Harvey’s ambition to be considered the Discoverer of the Circulation of the Blood, which he demonstrates—Stubbe describes the Philosophy of Science—attacks Sprat’s Dedication to the King—The Philosophical Transactions published by Sir Hans Sloane ridiculed by Dr. King—his new Species of Literary Burlesque—King’s character—these attacks not ineffectually renewed by Sir John Hill.

The Royal Society, on its first establishment, at the era of the Restoration, encountered fierce hostilities; nor, even at later periods, has it escaped many wanton attacks. A great revolution in the human mind was opening with that establishment; for the spirit which had appeared in the recent political concussion, and which had given freedom to opinion, and a bolder scope to enterprise, had now reached the literary and philosophical world; but causes of the most opposite natures operated against this institution of infant science.

In the first place, the new experimental philosophy, full of inventions and operations, proposed to supplant the old scholastic philosophy, which still retained an obscure jargon of terms, the most frivolous subtilties, and all those empty and artificial methods by which it pretended to decide on all topics. Too long it had filled the ear with airy speculation, while it starved the mind that languished for sense and knowledge. But this emancipation menaced the power of the followers of Aristotle, who were still slumbering in their undisputed authority, 337 enthroned in our Universities. For centuries the world had been taught that the philosopher of Stagira had thought on every subject: Aristotle was quoted as equal authority with St. Paul, and his very image has been profanely looked on with the reverence paid to Christ. Bacon had fixed a new light in Europe, and others were kindling their torches at his flame. When the great usurper of the human understanding was once fairly opposed to Nature, he betrayed too many symptoms of mere humanity. Yet this great triumph was not obtained without severe contention; and upon the Continent even blood has been shed in the cause of words. In our country, the University of Cambridge was divided by a party who called themselves Trojans, from their antipathy to the Greeks, or the Aristotelians; and once the learned Richard Harvey, the brother of Gabriel, the friend of Spenser, stung to madness by the predominant powers, to their utter dismay set up their idol on the school-gates, with his heels upwards, and ass’s ears on his head. But at this later period, when the Royal Society was established, the war was more open, and both parties more inveterate. Now the world seemed to think, so violent is the reaction of public opinion, that they could reason better without Aristotle than with him: that he had often taught them nothing more than self-evident propositions, or had promoted that dangerous idleness of maintaining paradoxes, by quibbles and other captious subtilties. The days had closed of the “illuminated,” the “profound,” and the “irrefragable,” titles, which the scholastic heroes had obtained; and the Aristotelian four modes, by which all things in nature must exist, of materialiter, formaliter, fundamentaliter, and eminenter, were now considered as nothing more than the noisy rattles, or chains of cherry-stones, which had too long detained us in the nursery of the human mind.[253] The world had been cheated with words 338 instead of things; and the new experimental philosophy insisted that men should be less loquacious, but more laborious.

Some there were, in that unsettled state of politics and religion, in whose breasts the embers of the late Revolution were still hot: they were panic-struck that the advocates of popery and arbitrary power were returning on them, disguised as natural philosophers. This new terror had a very ludicrous origin:—it arose from some casual expressions, in which the Royal Society at first delighted, and by which an air of mystery was thrown over its secret movements: such was that “Universal Correspondence” which it affected to boast of; and the vaunt to foreigners of its “Ten Secretaries,” when, in truth, all these magnificent declarations were only objects of their wishes. Another fond but singular expression, which the illustrious Boyle had frequently applied to it in its earliest state, when only composed of a few friends, calling it “The Invisible College,” all concurred to make the 339 Royal Society wear the appearance of a conspiracy against the political freedom of the nation. At a time, too, when, according to the historian of the Royal Society, “almost every family was widely disagreed among themselves on matters of religion,” they believed that this “new experimental philosophy was subversive of the Christian faith!”[254] and many mortally hated the newly-invented optical glasses, the telescope and the microscope, as atheistical inventions, which perverted our sight, and made everything appear in a new and false light! Sprat wrote his celebrated “History of the Royal Society,” to show that experimental philosophy was neither designed for the extinction of the Universities, nor of the Christian religion, which were really imagined to be in danger.

Others, again, were impatient for romantic discoveries; miracles were required, some were hinted at, while some were promised. In the ecstasy of imagination, they lost their soberness, forgetting that they were but the historians of nature, and not her prophets.[255] But amid these dreams of 340 hope and fancy, the creeping experimentalist was still left boasting of improvements, so slow that they were not perceived, and of novelties so absurd that they too often raised the laugh against their grave and unlucky discoverers. The philosophers themselves seemed to have been fretted into the impatient humour which they attempted to correct; and the amiable Evelyn becomes an irritated satirist, when he attempts to reply to the repeated question of that day, “What have they done?”[256]


But a source of the ridicule which was perpetually flowing against the Royal Society, was the almost infantine simplicity of its earliest members, led on by their honest zeal; and the absence of all discernment in many trifling and ludicrous researches, which called down the malice of the wits;[257] there was, too, much of that unjust contempt between the parties, which students of opposite pursuits and tastes so liberally bestow on each other. The researches of the Antiquarian Society were sneered at by the Royal, and the antiquaries 342 avenged themselves by their obstinate incredulity at the prodigies of the naturalists; the student of classical literature was equally slighted by the new philosophers; who, leaving the study of words and the elegancies of rhetoric for the study merely of things, declared as the cynical ancient did of metaphors, “Poterimus vivere sine illis”—We can do very well without them! The ever-witty South, in his oration at Oxford, made this poignant reflection on the Royal Society—“Mirantur nihil nisi pulices, pediculos, et seipsos.” They can admire nothing except fleas, lice, and themselves! And even Hobbes so little comprehended the utility of these new pursuits, that he considered the Royal Society merely as so many labourers, who, when they had washed their hands after their work, should leave to others the polishing of their discourses. He classed them, in the way they were proceeding, with apothecaries, and gardeners, and mechanics, who might now “all put in for, and get the prize.” Even at a later period, Sir William Temple imagined the virtuosi to be only so many Sir Nicholas Gimcracks; and contemptuously called them, from the place of their first meeting, “the Men of Gresham!” doubtless considering them as wise as “the Men of Gotham!” Even now, men of other tempers and other studies are too apt to refuse the palm of philosophy to the patient race of naturalists.[258] Wotton, who wrote so zealously at the commencement of the last century in favour of modern knowledge, is alarmed lest the effusions of wit, in his time, should “deaden the industry of the philosophers of the next age; for,” he adds, “nothing wounds so effectually as a jest; and when men once become ridiculous, their labours will be slighted, and they will find few imitators.” The alarm shows his zeal, but not his discernment: since curiosity in hidden causes is a passion which endures with human nature. “The 343 philosophers of the next age” have shown themselves as persevering as their predecessors, and the wits as malicious. The contest between men of meditation and men of experiment, is a very ancient quarrel; and the “divine” Socrates was no friend to, and even a ridiculer of, those very pursuits for which the Royal Society was established.[259]

In founding this infant empire of knowledge, a memorable literary war broke out between Glanvill, the author of the treatise on “Witches,” &c., and Stubbe, a physician, a man of great genius. It is the privilege of genius that its controversies enter into the history of the human mind; what is but temporary among the vulgar of mankind, with the curious and the intelligent become monuments of lasting interest. The present contest, though the spark of contention flew out of a private quarrel, at length blazed into a public controversy.

The obscure individual who commenced the fray, is forgotten in the boasted achievements of his more potent ally; he was a clergyman named Cross, the Vicar of Great Chew, in Somersetshire, a stanch Aristotelian.

Glanvill, a member of the Royal Society, and an enthusiast for the new philosophy, had kindled the anger of the peripatetic, 344 who was his neighbour, and who had the reputation of being the invincible disputant of his county.[260] Some, who had in vain contended with Glanvill, now contrived to inveigle the modern philosopher into an interview with this redoubted champion.

When Glanvill entered the house, he perceived that he was to begin an acquaintance in a quarrel, which was not the happiest way to preserve it. The Vicar of Great Chew sat amid his congregated admirers. The peripatetic had promised them the annihilation of the new-fashioned virtuoso, and, like an angry boar, had already been preluding by whetting his tusks. Scarcely had the first cold civilities passed, when Glanvill found himself involved in single combat with an assailant armed with the ten categories of Aristotle. Cross, with his Quodam modo, and his Modo quodam, with his Ubi and his Quando, scattered the ideas of the simple experimentalist, who, confining himself to a simple recital of facts and a description of things, was referring, not to the logic of Aristotle, but to the works of nature. The imperative Aristotelian was wielding weapons, which, says Glanvill, “were nothing more than like those of a cudgel-player, or fencing-master.”[261]


The last blow was still reserved, when Cross asserted that Aristotle had more opportunities to acquire knowledge than the Royal Society, or all the present age had, or could have, for this definitive reason, “because Aristotle did, totam peragrare Asiam.” Besides, in the Chew philosophy, where novelty was treason, improvements or discoveries could never exist. Here the Aristotelian made his stand; and at length, gently hooking Glanvill between the horns of a dilemma, the entrapped virtuoso threw himself into an unguarded affirmation; at which the Vicar of Great Chew, shouting in triumph, with a sardonic grin, declared that Glanvill and his Royal Society had now avowed themselves to be atheistical! This made an end of the interview, and a beginning of the quarrel.[262]

Glanvill addressed an expostulatory letter to the inhuman Aristotelian, who only replied by calling it a recantation, asserting that the affair had finished with the conviction.

On this, Glanvill produced his “Plus Ultra,”[263] on the 346 modern improvements of knowledge. The quaint title referred to that Asian argument which placed the boundaries of knowledge at the ancient limits fixed by Aristotle, like the pillars of Hercules, on which was inscribed Ne plus ultra, to mark the extremity of the world. But Glanvill asserted we might advance still further—plus ultra! To this book the Aristotelian replied with such rancour, that he could not obtain a licence for the invective either at Oxford or London. Glanvill contrived to get some extracts, and printed a small number of copies for his friends, under the sarcastic title of “The Chew Gazette,”—a curiosity, we are told, of literary scolding, and which might now, among literary trinkets, fetch a Roxburgh prize.

Cross, maddened that he could not get his bundle of peripatetic ribaldries printed, wrote ballads, which he got sung as it chanced. But suppressed invectives and eking rhymes could but ill appease so fierce a mastiff: he set on the poor F.R.S. an animal as rabid, but more vigorous than himself—both of them strangely prejudiced against the modern improvements of knowledge; so that, like mastiffs in the dark, they were only the fiercer.

This was Dr. Henry Stubbe, a physician of Warwick—one of those ardent and versatile characters, strangely made up of defects as strongly marked as their excellences. He was one of those authors who, among their numerous remains, leave little of permanent value; for their busy spirits too keenly delight in temporary controversy, and they waste the efforts of a mind on their own age, which else had made the next their own. Careless of worldly opinions, these extraordinary men, with the simplicity of children, are mere beings of sensation; perpetually precipitated by their feelings, with slight powers of reflection, and just as sincere when they act in contradiction to themselves, as when they act in contradiction to others. In their moral habits, therefore, we are often struck with strange contrasts; their whole life is a jumble of actions; and we are apt to condemn their versatility of principles as arising from dishonest motives; yet their temper has often proved more generous, and their integrity purer, than those who have crept up in one unvarying progress to an eminence which they quietly possess, without any of the 347 ardour of these original, perhaps whimsical, minds. The most tremendous menace to a man of this class would be to threaten to write the history of his life and opinions. When Stubbe attacked the Royal Society, this threat was held out against him. But menaces never startled his intrepid genius; he roved in all his wild greatness; and, always occupied more by present views than interested by the past events of his life, he cared little for his consistency in the high spirit of his independence.

The extraordinary character of Stubbe produced as uncommon a history. Stubbe had originally been a child of fortune, picked up at Westminster school by Sir Henry Vane the younger, who sent him to Oxford; where this effervescent genius was, says Wood, “kicked, and beaten, and whipped.”[264] But if these little circumstances marked the irritability and boldness of his youth, it was equally distinguished by an entire devotion to his studies. Perhaps one of the most anomalous of human characters was that of his patron, Sir Henry Vane the younger (whom Milton has immortalised in one of the noblest of sonnets), the head of the Independents, who combined with the darkest spirit of fanaticism the clear views of the most sagacious politician. The gratitude of Stubbe lasted through all the changeful fortunes of the chief of a faction—a long date in the records of human affection! Stubbe had written against monarchy, the church, the university, &c.; for which, after the Restoration, he was accused by 348 his antagonists. He exults in the reproach; he replies with all that frankness of simplicity, so beautiful amid our artificial manners. He denies not the charge; he never trims, nor glosses over, nor would veil, a single part of his conduct. He wrote to serve his patrons, but never himself. I preserve the whole of this noble passage in the note.[265] Wood bears witness 349 to his perfect disinterestedness. He never partook of the prosperity of his patron, nor mixed with any parties, loving the retirement of his private studies; and if he scorned and hated one party, the Presbyterians, it was, says Wood, because his high generous nature detested men “void of generous souls, sneaking, snivelling, &c.” Stubbe appears to have carried this philosophical indifference towards objects of a higher interest than those of mere profit; for, at the Restoration, he found no difficulty in conforming to the Church[266] and to the Government. The king bestowed on him the title of his physician; yet, for the sake of making philosophical experiments, Stubbe went to Jamaica, and intended to have proceeded to Mexico and Peru, pursuing his profession, but still an adventurer. At length Stubbe returned home; established himself as a physician at Warwick, where, though he died early, he left a name celebrated.[267] The fertility of his pen appears in a great number of philosophical, political, and medical publications. But all his great learning, the facility of his genius, his poignant wit, his high professional character, his lofty independence, his scorn of practising the little mysterious arts of life, availed nothing; for while he was making himself popular among his auditors, he was eagerly depreciated by those who would not willingly allow merit to a man who owned no master, and who feared no rival.

Literary coteries were then held at coffee-houses;[268] and there presided the voluble Stubbe, with “a big and magisterial voice, while his mind was equal to it,” says the characterising Wood; but his attenuated frame seemed too delicate 350 to hold long so unbroken a spirit. It was an accident, however, which closed this life of toil and hurry and petulant genius. Going to a patient at night, Stubbe was drowned in a very shallow river, “his head (adds our cynic, who had generously paid the tribute of his just admiration with his strong peculiarity of style) being then intoxicated with bibbing, but more with talking and snuffing of powder.”

Such was the adversary of the Royal Society! It is quite in character that, under the government of Cromwell, he himself should have spread a taste for what was then called “The New Philosophy” among our youth and gentlemen, with the view of rendering the clergy contemptible; or, as he says, “to make them appear egregious fools in matters of common discourse.” He had always a motive for his actions, however opposite they were; pretending that he was never moved by caprice, but guided by principle. One of his adversaries, however, has reason to say, that judging him by his “printed papers, he was a man of excellent contradictory parts.” After the Restoration, he furnished as odd, but as forcible a reason, for opposing the Royal Society. At that time the nation, recent from republican ardours, was often panic-struck by papistical conspiracies, and projects of arbitrary power; and it was on this principle that he took part against the Society. Influenced by Dr. Fell and others, he suffered them to infuse these extravagant opinions into his mind. No private ends appear to have influenced his changeable conduct; and in the present instance he was sacrificing his personal feelings to his public principles; for Stubbe was then in the most friendly correspondence with the illustrious Boyle, the father of the Royal Society, who admired the ardour of Stubbe, till he found its inconvenience.[269]


Stubbe opened his formidable attacks, for they form a series, by replying to the “Plus Ultra” of Glanvill, with a title as quaint, “The Plus Ultra reduced to a Non-plus, in animadversions on Mr. Glanvill and the Virtuosi.” For a pretence for this violent attack, he strained a passage in Glanvill; insisting that the honour of the whole faculty of which he was a member was deeply concerned to refute Glanvill’s assertion, that “the ancient physicians could not cure a cut finger.”—This Glanvill denied he had ever affirmed or thought;[270] but war once resolved on, a pretext as slight as the present serves the purpose; and so that an odium be raised against the enemy, the end is obtained before the injustice is acknowledged. This is indeed the history of other wars than those of words. The present was protracted with an hostility unsubduing and unsubdued. At length the malicious ingenuity, or the heated fancy, of Stubbe, hardly sketched a political conspiracy, accusing the Royal Society of having adopted the monstrous projects of Campanella;—an anomalous genius, who was confined by the Inquisition the greater part of his life, and who, among some political reveries, projected the establishment of a universal empire, though he was for shaking off the yoke of authority in the philosophical world. He was for one government and one religion throughout 352 Europe, but in other respects he desired to leave the minds of men quite free. Campanella was one of the new lights of the age; and his hardy, though wild genius much more resembled our Stubbe, who denounced his extravagancies, than any of the Royal Society, to whom he was so artfully compared.

This tremendous attack appeared in Stubbe’s “Campanella Revived, or an Enquiry into the History of the Royal Society; whether the Virtuosi there do not pursue the projects of Campanella, for reducing England into Popery; relating the quarrel betwixt H. S. and the R. S., &c. 1670.”[271]


Such was the dread which his reiterated attacks caused the Royal Society, that they employed against him all the petty persecutions of power and intrigue. “Thirty legions,” says Stubbe, alluding to the famous reply of the philosopher, who 354 would not dispute with a crowned head, “were to be called to aid you against a young country physician, who had so long discontinued studies of this nature.” However, he announces that he has finished three more works against the Royal Society, and has a fourth nearly ready, if it be necessary to prove that the rhetorical history of the Society by Sprat must be bad, because “no eloquence can be complete if the subject-matter be foolish!” His adversaries not only threatened to write his life,[272] but they represented him to the king as a libeller, who ought to be whipped at a cart’s tail; a circumstance which Stubbe records with the indignation of a Roman spirit.[273] They stopped his work several times, and by some stratagem they hindered him from correcting the press; but nothing could impede the career of his fearless genius. 355 He treated with infinite ridicule their trivial or their marvellous discoveries in his “Legends no Histories,” and his “Censure on some Passages of the History of the Royal Society.” But while he ridiculed, he could instruct them; often contributing new knowledge, which the Royal Society had certainly been proud to have registered in their history. In his determination of depreciating the novelties of his day, he disputes even the honour of Harvey to the discovery of the circulation of the blood: he attributes it to Andreas Cæsalpinus, who not only discovered it, but had given it the name of Circulatio Sanguinis.[274]

Stubbe was not only himself a man of science, but a caustic satirist, who blends much pleasantry with his bitterness. In 356 the first ardour of philosophical discovery, the Society, delighted by the acquisition of new facts, which, however, rarely proved to be important, and were often ludicrous in their detail, appear to have too much neglected the arts of reasoning; they did not even practise common discernment, or what we might term philosophy, in its more enlarged sense.[275] Stubbe, with no respect for “a Society,” though dignified by the addition of “Royal,” says, “a cabinet of virtuosi are but pitiful reasoners. Ignorance is infectious; and ’tis possible for men to grow fools by contact. I will speak to the virtuosi in the language of the Romish Saint Francis (who, in the wilderness, so humbly addressed his only friends,) ‘Salvete, fratres asini! Salvete, fratres lupi!’” As for their Transactions and their History, he thinks “they purpose to grow famous, as the Turks do to gain Paradise, by treasuring up all the waste paper they meet with.” He rallies them on some ridiculous attempts, such as “An Art of Flying;” an art, says Stubbe, in which they have not so much as effected the most facile part of the attempt, which is to break their necks!

Sprat, in his dedication to the king, had said that “the establishment of the Royal Society was an enterprise equal to the most renowned actions of the best princes.” One would imagine that the notion of a monarch founding a society for the cultivation of the sciences could hardly be 357 made objectionable; but, in literary controversy, genius has the power of wresting all things to its purpose by its own peculiar force, and the art of placing every object in the light it chooses, and can thus obtain our attention in spite of our conviction. I will add the curious animadversion of Stubbe on Sprat’s compliment to the king:—

“Never Prince acquired the fame of great and good by any knickknacks—but by actions of political wisdom, courage, justice,” &c.

Stubbe shows how Dionysius and Nero had been depraved by these mechanic philosophers—that

“An Aristotelian would never pardon himself if he compared this heroical enterprise with the actions of our Black Prince or Henry V.; or with Henry VIII. in demolishing abbeys and rejecting the papal authority; or Queen Elizabeth’s exploits against Spain; or her restoring the Protestant religion, putting the Bible into English, and supporting the Protestants beyond sea. But the reason he (Sprat) gives why the establishment of the Royal Society of experimentators equals the most renowned actions of the best princes, is such a pitiful one as Guzman de Alfarache never met with in the whole extent of the Hospital of Fools—‘To increase the power, by new arts, of conquered nations!’ These consequences are twisted like the cordage of Ocnus, the God of Sloth, in hell, which are fit for nothing but to fodder asses with. If our historian means by every little invention to increase the powers of mankind, as an enterprise of such renown, he is deceived; this glory is not due to such as go about with a dog and a hoop, nor to the practicers of legerdemain, or upon the high or low rope; not to every mountebank and his man Andrew; all which, with many other mechanical and experimental philosophers, do in some sort increase the powers of mankind, and differ no more from some of the virtuosi, than a cat in a hole doth from a cat out of a hole; betwixt which that inquisitive person Asdryasdust Tossoffacan found a very great resemblance. ’Tis not the increasing of the powers of mankind by a pendulum watch, nor spectacles whereby divers may see under water, nor the new ingenuity of apple-roasters, nor every petty discovery or instrument, must be put in comparison, much less preferred, before the protection and enlargement of empires.”[276]


Had Stubbe’s death not occurred, this warfare had probably continued. He insisted on a complete victory. He had forced the Royal Society to disclaim their own works, by an announcement that they were not answerable, as a body, for the various contributions which they gave the world: an advertisement which has been more than once found necessary to be renewed. As for their historian Sprat, our intrepid Stubbe very unexpectedly offered to manifest to the parliament that this courtly adulator, by his book, was chargeable with high treason; if they believed that the Royal Society were really engaged so deeply as he averred in the portentous Cæsarean Popery of Campanella. Glanvill, who had “insulted all university learning,” had been immolated at the pedestal of Aristotle. “I have done enough,” he adds, “since my animadversions contain more than they all knew; and that these have shown that the virtuosi are very great impostors, or men of little reading;” alluding to the various discoveries which they promulgated as novelties, but which Stubbe had asserted were known to the ancients and others of a later period. This forms a perpetual accusation against the inventors and discoverers, who may often exclaim, “Perish those who have done our good works before us!” “The Discoveries of the Ancients and Moderns” by Dutens, had this book been then published, might have assisted our keen investigator; but our combatant ever proudly met his adversaries single-handed.

The “Philosophical Transactions” were afterwards accused of another kind of high treason, against grammar and common sense. It was long before the collectors of facts practised the art of writing on them; still later before they could philosophise, as well as observe: Bacon and Boyle were at first only imitated in their patient industry. When Sir Hans Sloane was the secretary of the Royal Society, he, and most of his correspondents, wrote in the most confused manner imaginable. A wit of a very original cast, the facetious Dr. King,[277] took advantage of their perplexed and often 359 unintelligible descriptions; of the meanness of their style, which humbled even the great objects of nature; of their credulity that heaped up marvels, and their vanity that prided itself on petty discoveries, and invented a new species of satire. Sloane, a name endeared to posterity, whose life was that of an enthusiast of science, and who was the founder of a national collection; and his numerous friends, many of whose names have descended with the regard due to the votaries of knowledge, fell the victims. Wit is an unsparing leveller.

The new species of literary burlesque which King seems to have invented, consists in selecting the very expressions and absurd passages from the original he ridiculed, and framing out of them a droll dialogue or a grotesque narrative, he adroitly inserted his own remarks, replete with the keenest irony, or the driest sarcasm.[278] Our arch wag says, “The bulls and blunders which Sloane and his friends so naturally 360 pour forth cannot be misrepresented, so careful I am in producing them.” King still moves the risible muscles of his readers. “The Voyage to Cajamai,” a travestie of Sloane’s valuable “History of Jamaica,” is still a peculiar piece of humour; and it has been rightly distinguished as “one of the severest and merriest satires that was ever written in prose.”[279] The author might indeed have blushed at the labour bestowed on these drolleries; he might have dreaded that humour so voluminous might grow tedious; but King, often with a Lucianic spirit, with flashes of Rabelais, and not seldom with the causticity of his friend Swift, dissipated life in literary idleness, with parodies and travesties on most of his contemporaries; and he made these little things often more exquisite at the cost of consuming on them a genius capable of better. A parodist or a burlesquer is a wit who is perpetually on the watch to catch up or to disguise an author’s words, to swell out his defects, and pick up his blunders—to amuse the public! King was a wit, who lived on the highway of literature, appropriating, for his own purpose, the property of the most eminent passengers, by a dextrous mode no other had hit on. What an important lesson the labours of King offer to real genius! Their temporary humour lost with their prototypes becomes like a paralytic limb, which, refusing to do its office, impedes the action of the vital members.

Wotton, in summing up his “Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning,” was doubtful whether knowledge would improve in the next age proportionably as it had done in his own. “The humour of the age is visibly altered,” he says, “from what it had been thirty years ago. Though the 361 Royal Society has weathered the rude attacks of Stubbe,” yet “the sly insinuations of the Men of Wit,” with “the public ridiculing of all who spend their time and fortunes in scientific or curious researches, have so taken off the edge of those who have opulent fortunes and a love to learning, that these studies begin to be contracted amongst physicians and mechanics.”—He treats King with good-humour. “A man is got but a very little way (in philosophy) that is concerned as often as such a merry gentleman as Dr. King shall think fit to make himself sport.”[280]




A Parallel between Orator Henley and Sir John Hill—his love of the Science of Botany, with the fate of his “Vegetable System”—ridicules scientific Collectors; his “Dissertation on Royal Societies,” and his “Review of the Works of the Royal Society”—compliments himself that he is NOT a Member—successful in his attacks on the Experimentalists, but loses his spirit in encountering the Wits—“The Inspector”—a paper war with Fielding—a literary stratagem—battles with Smart and Woodward—Hill appeals to the Nation for the Office of Keeper of the Sloane Collection—closes his life by turning Empiric—Some Epigrams on Hill—his Miscellaneous Writings.

In the history of literature we discover some who have opened their career with noble designs, and with no deficient powers, yet unblest with stoic virtues, having missed, in their honourable labours, those rewards they had anticipated, they have exhibited a sudden transition of character, and have left only a name proverbial for its disgrace.

Our own literature exhibits two extraordinary characters, indelibly marked by the same traditional odium. The wit and acuteness of Orator Henley, and the science and vivacity of the versatile Sir John Hill, must separate them from those who plead the same motives for abjuring all moral restraint, without having ever furnished the world with a single instance that they were capable of forming nobler views.

This orator and this knight would admit of a close parallel;[281] both as modest in their youth as afterwards remarkable for their effrontery. Their youth witnessed the same devotedness to study, with the same inventive and enterprising genius. Hill projected and pursued a plan of botanical travels, to form a collection of rare plants: the patronage he received was too 363 limited, and he suffered the misfortune of having anticipated the national taste for the science of botany by half a century. Our young philosopher’s valuable “Treatise on Gems,” from Theophrastus, procured for him the warm friendship of the eminent members of the Royal Society. To this critical period of the lives of Henley and of Hill, their resemblance is striking; nor is it less from the moment the surprising revolution in their characters occurred.

Pressed by the wants of life, they lost its decencies. Henley attempted to poise himself against the University; Hill against the Royal Society. Rejected by these learned bodies, both these Cains of literature, amid their luxuriant ridicule of eminent men, still evince some claims to rank among them. The one prostituted his genius in his “Lectures;” the other, in his “Inspectors.” Never two authors were more constantly pelted with epigrams, or buffeted in literary quarrels. They have met with the same fate; covered with the same odium. Yet Sir John Hill, this despised man, after all the fertile absurdities of his literary life, performed more for the improvement of the “Philosophical Transactions,” and was the cause of diffusing a more general taste for the science of botany, than any other contemporary. His real ability extorts that regard which his misdirected ingenuity, instigated by vanity, and often by more worthless motives, had lost for him in the world.[282]


At the time that Hill was engaged in several large compilations for the booksellers, his employers were desirous that the honours of an F.R.S. should ornament his title-page. This versatile genius, however, during these graver works, had suddenly emerged from his learned garret, and, in the shape of a fashionable lounger, rolled in his chariot from the Bedford to Ranelagh; was visible at routs; and sate at the theatre a tremendous arbiter of taste, raising about him tumults and divisions;[283] and in his “Inspectors,” a periodical paper which he published in the London Daily Advertiser, retailed all the great matters relating to himself, and all the little matters he collected in his rounds relating to others. Among other personalities, he indulged his satirical fluency on the scientific collectors. The Antiquarian Society were twitted as medal-scrapers and antediluvian knife-grinders; conchologists were turned into cockleshell merchants; and the naturalists were made to record pompous histories of stickle-hacks and cockchafers. Cautioned by Martin Folkes, President of the Royal Society,[284] not to attempt his election, our enraged comic philosopher, 365 who had preferred his jests to his friends, now discovered that he had lost three hundred at once. Hill could not obtain three signatures to his recommendation. Such was the real, but, as usual, not the ostensible, motive of his formidable attack on the Royal Society. He produced his “Dissertation on Royal Societies, in a letter from a Sclavonian nobleman to his friend,” 1751; a humorous prose satire, exhibiting a ludicrous description of a tumultuous meeting at the Royal Society, contrasted with the decorum observed in the French Academy; and moreover, he added a conversazione in a coffee-house between some of the members.

Such was the declaration of war, in a first act of hostility; but the pitched-battle was fought in “A Review of the Works of the Royal Society, in eight parts,” 1751. This literary satire is nothing less than a quarto volume, resembling, in its form and manner, the Philosophical Transactions themselves; printed as if for the convenience of members to enable them to bind the “Review” with the work reviewed. Voluminous pleasantry incurs the censure of that tedious trifling which it designs to expose. In this literary facetia, however, no inconsiderable knowledge is interspersed with the ridicule. Perhaps Hill might have recollected the successful attempts of Stubbe on the Royal Society, who contributed that curious knowledge which he pretended the Royal Society wanted; and with this knowledge he attempted to combine the humour of Dr. King.[285]

Hill’s rejection from the Royal Society, to another man would have been a puddle to step over; but he tells a story, and cleanly passes on, with impudent adroitness.[286]


Hill, however, though he used all the freedom of a satirist, by exposing many ridiculous papers, taught the Royal Society a more cautious selection. It could, however, obtain no forgiveness from the parties it offended; and while the respectable men whom Hill had the audacity to attack, Martin Folkes, the friend and successor of Newton, and Henry Baker, the naturalist, were above his censure,—his own reputation remained in the hands of his enemies. While Hill was gaining over the laughers on his side, that volatile populace soon discovered that the fittest object to be laughed at was our literary Proteus himself.

The most egregious egotism alone could have induced this 367 versatile being, engaged in laborious works, to venture to give the town the daily paper of The Inspector, which he supported for about two years. It was a light scandalous chronicle all the week, with a seventh-day sermon. His utter contempt for the genius of his contemporaries, and the bold conceit of his own, often rendered the motley pages amusing. The Inspector became, indeed, the instrument of his own martyrdom; but his impudence looked like magnanimity; for he endured, with undiminished spirit, the most biting satires, the most wounding epigrams, and more palpable castigations.[287] His 368 vein of pleasantry ran more freely in his attacks on the Royal Society than in his other literary quarrels. When Hill had not to banter ridiculous experimentalists, but to encounter wits, his reluctant spirit soon bowed its head. Suddenly even his pertness loses its vivacity; he becomes drowsy with dulness, and, conscious of the dubiousness of his own cause, he skulks away terrified: he felt that the mask of quackery and impudence which he usually wore was to be pulled off by the hands now extended against him.

A humorous warfare of wit opened between Fielding, in his Covent-Garden Journal, and Hill, in his Inspector. The Inspector had made the famous lion’s head, at the Bedford, which the genius of Addison and Steele had once animated, the receptacle of his wit; and the wits asserted, of this now inutile lignum, that it was reduced to a mere state of blockheadism. Fielding occasionally gave a facetious narrative of a paper war between the forces of Sir Alexander Drawcansir, the literary hero of the Covent-Garden Journal, and the army of Grub-street; it formed an occasional literary satire. Hill’s lion, no longer Addison’s or Steele’s, is not described without humour. Drawcansir’s “troops are kept in awe by a strange mixed monster, not much unlike the famous chimera of old. For while some of our Reconnoiterers tell us that this monster has the appearance of a lion, others assure us that his ears are much longer than those of that generous beast.”

Hill ventured to notice this attack on his “blockhead;” and, as was usual with him, had some secret history to season his defence with.

“The author of ‘Amelia,’ whom I have only once seen, told me, at that accidental meeting, he held the present set of writers in the utmost contempt; and that, in his character of Sir Alexander Drawcansir, he should treat them in the most unmerciful manner. He assured me he had always excepted me; and after honouring me with some encomiums, he proceeded to mention a conduct which would be, he said, useful to both; this was, the amusing our readers with a mock fight; giving blows that would not hurt, and sharing the advantage in silence.”[288]


Thus, by reversing the fact, Hill contrived to turn aside the frequent stories against him by a momentary artifice, arresting or dividing public opinion. The truth was, more probably, as Fielding relates it, and the story, as we shall see, then becomes quite a different affair. At all events, Hill incurred the censure of the traitor who violates a confidential intercourse.

And if he lies not, must at least betray.    


Fielding lost no time in reply. To have brought down the Inspector from his fastnesses into the open field, was what our new General only wanted: a battle was sure to be a victory. Our critical Drawcansir has performed his part, with his indifferent puns, but his natural facetiousness.

“It being reported to the General that a hill must be levelled, before the Bedford coffee-house could be taken, orders were given; but this was afterwards found to be a mistake; for this hill was only a little paltry dunghill, and had long before been levelled with the dirt. The General was then informed of a report which had been spread by his lowness, the Prince of Billingsgate, in the Grub-street army, that his Excellency had proposed, by a secret treaty with that Prince, to carry on the war only in appearance, and so to betray the common cause; upon which his Excellency said with a smile:—‘If the betrayer of a private treaty could ever deserve the least credit, yet his Lowness here must proclaim himself either a liar or a fool. None can doubt but that he is the former, if he hath feigned this treaty; and I think few would scruple to call him the latter, if he had rejected it.’ The General then declared the fact stood thus:—‘His Lowness came to my tent on an affair of his own. I treated him, though a commander in the enemy’s camp, with civility, and even kindness. I told him, with the utmost good-humour, I should attack his Lion; and that he might, if he pleased, in the same manner defend him; from which, said I, no great loss can happen on either side—’”

The Inspector slunk away, and never returned to the challenge.


During his inspectorship, he invented a whimsical literary stratagem, which ended in his receiving a castigation more lasting than the honours performed on him at Ranelagh by the cane of a warm Hibernian. Hill seems to have been desirous of abusing certain friends whom he had praised in the Inspectors; so volatile, like the loves of coquettes, are the literary friendships of the “Scribleri.” As this could not be done with any propriety there, he published the first number of a new paper, entitled The Impertinent. Having thus relieved his private feelings, he announced the cessation of this new enterprise in his Inspectors, and congratulated the public on the ill reception it had given to the Impertinent, applauding them for their having shown by this that “their indignation was superior to their curiosity.” With impudence all his own, he adds—“It will not be easy to say too much in favour of the candour of the town, which has despised a piece that cruelly and unjustly attacked Mr. Smart the poet.” What innocent soul could have imagined that The Impertinent and The Inspector were the same individual? The style is a specimen of persiflage; the thin sparkling thought; the pert vivacity, that looks like wit without wit; the glittering bubble, that rises in emptiness;—even its author tells us, in The Inspector, it is “the most pert, the most pretending,” &c.[289]


Smart, in return for our Janus-faced critic’s treatment, balanced the amount of debtor and creditor with a pungent Dunciad The Hilliad. Hill, who had heard of the rod in pickle, anticipated the blow, to break its strength; and, according to his adopted system, introduced himself and Smart, with a story of his having recommended the bard to his bookseller, “who took him into salary on my approbation. I betrayed him into the profession, and having starved upon it, he has a right to abuse me.” This story was formally denied by an advertisement from Newbery, the bookseller.

“The Hilliad” is a polished and pointed satire. The hero is thus exhibited on earth, and in heaven.

On earth, “a tawny sibyl,” with “an old striped curtain—”

And tatter’d tapestry o’er her shoulders hung—
Her loins with patchwork cincture were begirt,
That more than spoke diversity of dirt.
Twain were her teeth, and single was her eye—
Cold palsy shook her head——

with “moon-struck madness,” awards him all the wealth and fame she could afford him for sixpence; and closes her orgasm with the sage admonition—

The chequer’d world’s before thee; go, farewell!
Beware of Irishmen; and learn to spell!

But in heaven, among the immortals, never was an unfortunate hero of the vindicative Muses so reduced into nothingness! Jove, disturbed at the noise of this thing of wit, exclaims, that nature had never proved productive in vain before, but now,

On mere privation she bestow’d a frame,
And dignified a nothing with a name;
A wretch devoid of use, of sense, of grace,
The insolvent tenant of incumber’d space!

Pallas hits off the style of Hill, as

The neutral nonsense, neither false nor true—
Should Jove himself, in calculation mad,
Still negatives to blank negations add;
How could the barren ciphers ever breed;
But nothing still from nothing would proceed.
Raise, or depress, or magnify, or blame,
Inanity will ever be the same.


But Phœbus shows there may still be something produced from inanity.

E’en blank privation has its use and end—
From emptiness, how sweetest music flows!
How absence, to possession adds a grace,
And modest vacancy, to all gives place.
So from Hillario, some effect may spring;
E’en him—that slight penumbra of a thing!

The careless style of the fluent Inspectors, beside their audacity, brought Hill into many scrapes. He called Woodward, the celebrated harlequin, “the meanest of all characters.” This Woodward resented in a pamphlet-battle, in which Hill was beaten at all points.[290] But Hill, or the Monthly Reviewer, who might be the same person, for that journal writes with the tenderness of a brother of whatever relates to our hero, pretends that the Inspector only meant, that “the character of Harlequin (if a thing so unnatural and ridiculous ought to be called a character) was the meanest on the stage!”[291]


I will here notice a characteristic incident in Hill’s literary life, of which the boldness and the egotism is scarcely paralleled, even by Orator Henley. At the time the Sloane Collection of Natural History was purchased, to form a part of our grand national establishment, the British Museum, Hill offered himself, by public advertisement, in one of his Inspectors, as the properest person to be placed at its head. The world will condemn him for his impudence. The most reasonable objection against his mode of proceeding would be, that the thing undid itself; and that the very appearance, by public advertisement, was one motive why so confident an offer should be rejected. Perhaps, after all, Hill only wanted to advertise himself.

But suppose that Hill was the man he represents himself to be, and he fairly challenges the test, his conduct only appears eccentric, according to routine. Unpatronised and unfriended men are depressed, among other calamities, with their quiescent modesty; but there is a rare spirit in him who dares to claim favours, which he thinks his right, in the most public manner. I preserve, in the note, the most striking passages of this extraordinary appeal.[292]


At length, after all these literary quarrels, Hill survived his literary character. He had written himself down to so low a degree, that whenever he had a work for publication, his employers stipulated, in their contracts, that the author should conceal his name; a circumstance not new among a certain race of writers.[293] But the genius of Hill was not annihilated 375 by being thrown down so violently on his mother earth; like Anthæus, it rose still fresh; and like Proteus, it assumed new forms.[294] Lady Hill and the young Hills were claimants on his industry far louder than the evanescent epigrams which darted around him: these latter, however, were more numerous than ever dogged an author in his road to literary celebrity.[295] His science, his ingenuity, and his impudence once more practised on the credulity of the public, with the innocent quackery of attributing all medicinal virtues to British herbs. 376 He made many walk out, who were too sedentary; they were delighted to cure headaches by feverfew tea; hectic fevers by the daisy; colics by the leaves of camomile, and agues by its flowers. All these were accompanied by plates of the plants, with the Linnæan names.[296] This was preparatory to the Essences of Sage, Balsams of Honey, and Tinctures of Valerian. Simple persons imagined they were scientific botanists in their walks, with Hill’s plates in their hands. But one of the newly-discovered virtues of British herbs was, undoubtedly, that of placing the discoverer in a chariot.

In an Apology for the character of Sir John Hill, published after his death, where he is painted with much beauty of colouring, and elegance of form, the eruptions and excrescences of his motley physiognomy, while they are indicated—for they were too visible to be entirely omitted in anything pretending to a resemblance—are melted down, and even touched into a grace. The Apology is not unskilful, but the real purpose appears in the last page; where we are informed that Lady Hill, fortunately for the world, possesses all his valuable recipes and herbal remedies!



A Faction of Wits at Oxford the concealed movers of this Controversy—Sir William Temple’s opinions the ostensible cause; Editions of classical Authors by young Students at Oxford the probable one—Boyle’s first attack in the Preface to his “Phalaris”—Bentley, after a silence of three years, betrays his feelings on the literary calumny of Boyle—Boyle replies by the “Examination of Bentley’s Dissertation”—Bentley rejoins by enlarging it—the effects of a contradictory Narrative at a distant time—Bentley’s suspicions of the origin of the “Phalaris,” and “The Examination,” proved by subsequent facts—Bentley’s dignity when stung at the ridicule of Dr. King—applies a classical pun, and nicknames his facetious and caustic Adversary—King invents an extraordinary Index to dissect the character of Bentley—specimens of the Controversy; Boyle’s menace, anathema, and ludicrous humour—Bentley’s sarcastic reply not inferior to that of the Wits.

The splendid controversy between Boyle and Bentley was at times a strife of gladiators, and has been regretted as the opprobrium of our literature; but it should be perpetuated to its honour; for it may be considered, on one side at least, as a noble contest of heroism.

The ostensible cause of the present quarrel was inconsiderable; the concealed motive lies deeper; and the party feelings of the haughty Aristarchus of Cambridge, and a faction of wits at Oxford, under the secret influence of Dean Aldrich, provoked this fierce and glorious contest.

Wit, ridicule, and invective, by cabal and stratagem, obtained a seeming triumph over a single individual, but who, like the Farnesian Hercules, personified the force and resistance of incomparable strength. “The Bees of Christchurch,” as this conspiracy of wits has been called, so musical and so angry, rushed in a dark swarm about him, but only left their fine stings in the flesh they could not wound. He only put out his hand in contempt, never in rage. The Christchurch men, as if doubtful whether wit could prevail against learning, had recourse to the maliciousness of personal satire. They amused an idle public, who could even relish sense and Greek, seasoned as they were with wit and satire, while Boyle was 378 showing how Bentley wanted wit, and Bentley was proving how Boyle wanted learning.

To detect the origin of the controversy, we must find the seed-plot of Bentley’s volume in Sir William Temple’s “Essay upon Ancient and Modern Learning,” which he inscribed to his alma mater, the University of Cambridge. Sir William, who had caught the contagion of the prevalent literary controversy of the times, in which the finest geniuses in Europe had entered the lists, imagined that the ancients possessed a greater force of genius, with some peculiar advantages—that the human mind was in a state of decay—and that our knowledge was nothing more than scattered fragments saved out of the general shipwreck. He writes with a premeditated design to dispute the improvements or undervalue the inventions of his own age. Wotton, the friend of Bentley, replied by his curious volume of “Reflections on Ancient and Modern Learning.” But Sir William, in his ardour, had thrown out an unguarded opinion, which excited the hostile contempt of Bentley. “The oldest books,” he says, “we have, are still in their kind the best; the two most ancient that I know of, in prose, are ‘Æsop’s Fables’ and ‘Phalaris’s Epistles.’”—The “Epistles,” he insists, exhibit every excellence of “a statesman, a soldier, a wit, and a scholar.” That ancient author, who Bentley afterwards asserted was only “some dreaming pedant, with his elbow on his desk.”

Bentley, bristled over with Greek, perhaps then considered that to notice a vernacular and volatile writer ill assorted with the critic’s Fastus. But about this time Dean Aldrich had set an example to the students of Christchurch of publishing editions of classical authors. Such juvenile editorships served as an easy admission into the fashionable literature of Oxford. Alsop had published the “Æsop;” and Boyle, among other “young gentlemen,” easily obtained the favour of the dean, “to desire him to undertake an edition of the ‘Epistles of Phalaris.’” Such are the modest terms Boyle employs in his reply to Bentley, after he had discovered the unlucky choice he had made of an author.

For this edition of “Phalaris” it was necessary to collate a MS. in the king’s library; and Bentley, about this time, had become the royal librarian. Boyle did not apply directly to Bentley, but circuitously, by his bookseller, with whom the doctor was not on terms. Some act of civility, or a Mercury more “formose,” to use one of his latinisms, was probably 379 expected. The MS. was granted, but the collator was negligent; in six days Bentley reclaimed it, “four hours” had been sufficient for the purpose of collation.

When Boyle’s “Phalaris” appeared, he made this charge in the preface, that having ordered the Epistles to be collated with the MS. in the king’s library, the collator was prevented perfecting the collation by the singular humanity of the library-keeper, who refused any further use of the MS.; pro singulari suâ humanitate negavit: an expression that sharply hit a man marked by the haughtiness of his manners.[297]

Bentley, on this insult, informed Boyle of what had passed. He expected that Boyle would have civilly cancelled the page; though he tells us he did not require this, because, “to have insisted on the cancel, might have been forcing a gentleman to too low a submission;”—a stroke of delicacy which will surprise some to discover in the strong character of Bentley. But he was also too haughty to ask a favour, and too conscious of his superiority to betray a feeling of injury. Boyle replied, that the bookseller’s account was quite different from the doctor’s, who had spoken slightingly of him. Bentley said no more.

Three years had nearly elapsed, when Bentley, in a new edition of his friend Wotton’s book, published “A Dissertation on the Epistles of the Ancients;” where, reprehending the false criticism of Sir William Temple, he asserted that the “Fables of Æsop” and the “Epistles of Phalaris” were alike spurious. The blow was levelled at Christchurch, and all “the bees” were brushed down in the warmth of their summer-day.

It is remarkable that Bentley kept so long a silence; indeed, he had considered the affair so trivial, that he had preserved no part of the correspondence with Boyle, whom no doubt he slighted as the young editor of a spurious author. But Boyle’s edition came forth, as Bentley expresses it, “with 380 a sting in its mouth.” This, at first, was like a cut finger—he breathed on it, and would have forgotten it; but the nerve was touched, and the pain raged long after the stroke. Even the great mind of Bentley began to shrink at the touch of literary calumny, so different from the vulgar kind, in its extent and its duration. He betrays the soreness he would wish to conceal, when he complains that “the false story has been spread all over England.”

The statement of Bentley produced, in reply, the famous book of Boyle’s “Examination of Bentley’s Dissertation.” It opens with an imposing narrative, highly polished, of the whole transaction, with the extraordinary furniture of documents, which had never before entered into a literary controversy—depositions—certificates—affidavits—and private letters. Bentley now rejoined by his enlarged “Dissertation on Phalaris,” a volume of perpetual value to the lovers of ancient literature, and the memorable preface of which, itself a volume, exhibits another Narrative, entirely differing from Boyle’s. These produced new replies and new rejoinders. The whole controversy became so perplexed, that it has frightened away all who have attempted to adjust the particulars. With unanimous consent they give up the cause, as one in which both parties studied only to contradict each other. Such was the fate of a Narrative, which was made out of the recollections of the parties, with all their passions at work, after an interval of three years. In each, the memory seemed only retentive of those passages which best suited their own purpose, and which were precisely those the other party was most likely to have forgotten. What was forgotten, was denied; what was admitted, was made to refer to something else; dialogues were given which appear never to have been spoken; and incidents described which are declared never to have taken place; and all this, perhaps, without any purposed violation of truth. Such were the dangers and misunderstandings which attended a Narrative framed out of the broken or passionate recollections of the parties on the watch to confound one another.[298]


Bentley’s Narrative is a most vigorous production: it heaves with the workings of a master-spirit; still reasoning with such force, and still applying with such happiness the stores of his copious literature, had it not been for this literary quarrel, the mere English reader had lost this single opportunity of surveying that commanding intellect.

Boyle’s edition of “Phalaris” was a work of parade, designed to confer on a young man, who bore an eminent name, some distinction in the literary world. But Bentley seems to have been well-informed of the secret transactions at Christchurch. In his first attack he mentions Boyle as “the young gentleman of great hopes, whose name is set to the edition;” and asserts that the editor, no more than his own “Phalaris,” has written what was ascribed to him. He persists in making a plurality of a pretended unity, by multiplying Boyle into a variety of little personages, of “new editors,” our “annotators,” our “great geniuses.”[299] Boyle, 382 touched at these reflections, declared “they were levelled at a learned society, in which I had the happiness to be educated; as if ‘Phalaris’ had been made up by contributions from several hands.” Pressed by Bentley to acknowledge the assistance of Dr. John Freind, Boyle confers on him the ambiguous title of “The Director of Studies.” Bentley links the Bees together—Dr. Freind and Dr. Alsop. “The Director of Studies, who has lately set out Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,’ with a paraphrase and notes, is of the same size for learning with the late editor of the Æsopian Fables. They bring the nation into contempt abroad, and themselves into it at home;” and adds to this magisterial style, the mortification of his criticism on Freind’s Ovid, as on Alsop’s Æsop.

But Boyle assuming the honours of an edition of “Phalaris,” was but a venial offence, compared with that committed by the celebrated volume published in its defence.

If Bentley’s suspicions were not far from the truth, that “the ‘Phalaris’ had been made up by contributions,” they approached still closer when they attacked “The Examination of his Dissertation.” Such was the assistance which Boyle received from all “the Bees,” that scarcely a few ears of that rich sheaf fall to his portion. His efforts hardly reach to the mere narrative of his transactions with Bentley. All the varied erudition, all the Attic graces, all the inexhaustible wit, are claimed by others; so that Boyle was not materially concerned either in his “Phalaris,” or in the more memorable work.[300]


The Christchurch party now formed a literary conspiracy against the great critic; and as treason is infectious when the faction is strong, they were secretly engaging new associates; Whenever any of the party published anything themselves, 384 they had sworn to have always “a fling at Bentley,” and intrigued with their friends to do the same.

They procured Keil, the professor of astronomy, in so grave a work as “The Theory of the Earth,” to have a fling at Bentley’s boasted sagacity in conjectural criticism. Wotton, in a dignified reproof, administered a spirited correction to the party-spirit; while his love of science induced him generously to commend Keil, and intimate the advantages the world may derive from his studies, “as he grows older.” Even Garth and Pope struck in with the alliance, and condescended to pour out rhymes more lasting than even the prose of “the Bees.”

But of all the rabid wits who, fastening on their prey, never drew their fangs from the noble animal, the facetious Dr. King seems to have been the only one who excited Bentley’s anger. Persevering malice, in the teasing shape of caustic banter, seems to have affected the spirit even of Bentley.

At one of those conferences which passed between Bentley and the bookseller, King happened to be present; and being called on by Boyle to bear his part in the drama, he performed it quite to the taste of “the Bees.” He addressed a letter to Dean Aldrich, in which he gave one particular: and, to make up a sufficient dose, dropped some corrosives. He closes his letter thus:—“That scorn and contempt which I have naturally for pride and insolence, makes me remember that which otherwise I might have forgotten.” Nothing touched Bentley more to the quick than reflections on “his pride and insolence.” Our defects seem to lose much of their character, in reference to ourselves, by habit and natural disposition; yet we have always a painful suspicion of their existence; and he who touches them with no tenderness is never pardoned. The invective of King had all the bitterness 385 of truth. Bentley applied a line from Horace; which showed that both Horace and Bentley could pun in anger:—

Proscripti Regis Rupili pus atque venenum.[301]Sat. i. 7.

The filth and venom of Rupilius King.

The particular incident which King imperfectly recollected, made afterwards much noise among the wits, for giving them a new notion of the nature of ancient MSS. King relates that Dr. Bentley said—“If the MS. were collated, it would be worth nothing for the future.” Bentley, to mortify the pertness of the bookseller, who would not send his publications to the Royal Library, had said that he ought to do so, were it but to make amends for the damage the MS. would sustain by his printing the various readings; “for,” added Bentley, “after the various lections were once taken and printed, the MS. would be like a squeezed orange, and little worth for the future.” This familiar comparison of a MS. with a squeezed orange provoked the epigrammatists. Bentley, in retorting on King, adds some curious facts concerning the fate of MSS. after they have been printed; but is aware, he says, of what little relish or sense the Doctor has of MSS., who is better skilled in “the catalogue of ales, his Humty-Dumty, Hugmatee, Three-threads, and the rest of that glorious list, than in the catalogue of MSS.” King, in his banter on Dr. Lister’s journey to Paris, had given a list of these English beverages. It was well known that he was in too constant an intercourse with them all. Bentley nicknames King through the progress of his Controversy, for his tavern-pleasures, Humty-Dumty, and accuses him of writing more in a tavern than in a study. He little knew the injustice of his charge against a student who had written notes on 22,000 books and MSS.; but they were not Greek ones.

All this was not done with impunity. An irritated wit only finds his adversary cutting out work for him. A second letter, more abundant with the same pungent qualities, fell on the head of Bentley. King says of the arch-critic—“He thinks meanly, I find, of my reading; yet for all that, I dare say I have read more than any man in England besides him 386 and me; for I have read his book all over.”[302] Nor was this all; “Humty-Dumty” published eleven “Dialogues of the Dead,” supposed to be written by a student at Padua, concerning “one Bentivoglio, a very troublesome critic in the world;” where, under the character of “Signior Moderno,” Wotton falls into his place. Whether these dialogues mortified Bentley, I know not: they ought to have afforded him very high amusement. But when a man is at once tickled and pinched, the operation requires a gentler temper than Bentley’s. “Humty-Dumty,” indeed, had Bentley too often before him. There was something like inveteracy in his wit; but he who invented the remarkable index to Boyle’s book, must have closely studied Bentley’s character. He has given it with all its protuberant individuality.[303]

Bentley, with his peculiar idiom, had censured “all the 387 stiffness and stateliness, and operoseness of style, quite alien from the character of ‘Phalaris,’ a man of business and despatch.” Boyle keenly turns his own words on Bentley. “Stiffness and stateliness, and operoseness of style, is indeed quite alien from the character of a man of business; and being but a library-keeper, it is not over-modestly done, to oppose his judgment and taste to that of Sir William Temple, who knows more of these things than Dr. Bentley does of Hesychius and Suidas. Sir William Temple has spent a good part of his life in transacting affairs of state: he has written to kings, and they to him; and this has qualified him to judge how kings should write, much better than the library-keeper at St. James’s.”—This may serve as a specimen of the Attic style of the controversy. Hard words sometimes passed. Boyle complains of some of the similes which Bentley employs, more significant than elegant. For the new readings of “Phalaris,” “he likens me to a bungling tinker mending old kettles.” Correcting the faults of the version, he says, “The first epistle cost me four pages in scouring;” and, “by the help of a Greek proverb, he calls me downright ass.” But while Boyle complains of these sprinklings of ink, he himself contributes to Bentley’s “Collection of Asinine Proverbs,” and “throws him in one out of Aristophanes,” of “an ass carrying mysteries:” “a proverb,” says Erasmus, (as ‘the Bees’ construe him.) “applied to those who were preferred to some place they did not deserve, as when a dunce was made a library-keeper.”

Some ambiguous threats are scattered in the volume, while others are more intelligible. When Bentley, in his own defence, had referred to the opinions which some learned foreigners entertained of him—they attribute these to “the foreigners, because they are foreigners—we, that have the happiness of a nearer conversation with him, know him better; and we may perhaps take an opportunity of setting these mistaken strangers right in their opinions.” They threaten him with his character, “in a tongue that will last longer, and go further, than their own;” and, in the imperious style of Festus, add:—“Since Dr. Bentley has appealed to foreign universities, to foreign universities he must go.” Yet this is light, compared with the odium they would raise against him by the menace of the resentments of a whole society of learned men.

Single adversaries die and drop off; but societies are immortal: 388 their resentments are sometimes delivered down from hand to hand; and when once they have begun with a man, there is no knowing when they will leave him.”

In reply to this literary anathema, Bentley was furnished, by his familiarity with his favourite authors, with a fortunate application of a term, derived from Phalaris himself. Cicero had conveyed his idea of Cæsar’s cruelty by this term, which he invented from the very name of the tyrant.[304]

“There is a certain temper of mind that Cicero calls Phalarism; a spirit like Phalaris’s. One would be apt to imagine that a portion of it had descended upon some of his translators. The gentleman has given a broad hint more than once in his book, that if I proceed further against Phalaris, I may draw, perhaps, a duel, or a stab upon myself; a generous threat to a divine, who neither carries arms nor principles fit for that sort of controversy. I expected such usage from the spirit of Phalarism.”

In this controversy, the amusing fancy of “the Bees” could not pass by Phalaris without contriving to make some use of that brazen bull by which he tortured men alive. Not satisfied in their motto, from the Earl of Roscommon, with wedging “the great critic, like Milo, in the timber he strove to rend,” they gave him a second death in their finis, by throwing Bentley into Phalaris’s bull, and flattering their vain imaginations that they heard him “bellow.”

“He has defied Phalaris, and used him very coarsely, under the assurance, as he tells us, that ‘he is out of his reach.’ Many of Phalaris’s enemies thought the same thing, and repented of their vain confidence afterwards in his bull. Dr. Bentley is perhaps, by this time, or will be suddenly, satisfied that he also has presumed a little too much upon his distance; but it will be too late to repent when he begins to bellow.”[305]

Bentley, although the solid force of his mind was not favourable to the lighter sports of wit, yet was not quite destitute of those airy qualities; nor does he seem insensible to the literary merits of “that odd work,” as he calls Boyle’s volume, which he conveys a very good notion of:—“If his 389 book shall happen to be preserved anywhere as an useful commonplace book for ridicule, banter, and all the topics of calumny.” With equal dignity and sense he observes on the ridicule so freely used by both parties—“I am content that what is the greatest virtue of his book should be counted the greatest fault of mine.”

His reply to “Milo’s fate,” and the tortures he was supposed to pass through when thrown into Phalaris’s bull, is a piece of sarcastic humour which will not suffer by comparison with the volume more celebrated for its wit.

“The facetious examiner seems resolved to vie with Phalaris himself in the science of Phalarism; for his revenge is not satisfied with one single death of his adversary, but he will kill me over and over again. He has slain me twice by two several deaths! one, in the first page of his book; and another, in the last. In the title-page I die the death of Milo, the Crotonian:—

——Remember Milo’s end,

Wedged in that timber which he strove to rend.

“The application of which must be this:—That as Milo, after his victories at six several Olympiads, was at last conquered and destroyed in wrestling with a tree, so I, after I had attained to some small reputation in letters, am to be quite baffled and run down by wooden antagonists. But in the end of his book he has got me into Phalaris’s bull, and he has the pleasure of fancying that he hears me begin to bellow. Well, since it is certain that I am in the bull, I have performed the part of a sufferer. For as the cries of the tormented in old Phalaris’s bull, being conveyed through pipes lodged in the machine, were turned into music for the entertainment of the tyrant, so the complaints which my torments express from me, being conveyed to Mr. Boyle by this answer, are all dedicated to his pleasure and diversion. But yet, methinks, when he was setting up to be Phalaris junior, the very omen of it might have deterred him. As the old tyrant himself at last bellowed in his own bull, his imitators ought to consider that at long run their own actions may chance to overtake them.”—p. 43.

Wit, however, enjoyed the temporary triumph; not but that some, in that day, loudly protested against the award.[306] 390 “The Episode of Bentley and Wotton,” in “The Battle of the Books,” is conceived with all the caustic imagination of the first of our prose satirists. There Bentley’s great qualities are represented as “tall, without shape or comeliness; large, without strength or proportion.” His various erudition, as “armour patched up of a thousand incoherent pieces;” his book, as “the sound” of that armour, “loud and dry, like that made by the fall of a sheet of lead from the roof of some steeple;” his haughty intrepidity, as “a vizor of brass, tainted by his breath, corrupted into copperas, nor wanted gall from the same fountain; so that, whenever provoked by anger or labour, an atramentous quality of most malignant nature was seen to distil from his lips.” Wotton is “heavy-armed and slow of foot, lagging behind.” They perish together in one ludicrous death. Boyle, in his celestial armour, by a stroke of his weapon, transfixes both “the lovers,” “as a cook trusses a brace of woodcocks, with iron skewer piercing the tender sides of both. Joined in their lives, joined in their death, so closely joined, that Charon would mistake them both for one, and waft them over Styx for half his fare.” Such is the candour of wit! The great qualities of an adversary, as in Bentley, are distorted into disgraceful attitudes; while the suspicious virtues of a friend, as in Boyle, not passed over in prudent silence, are ornamented with even spurious panegyric.

Garth, catching the feeling of the time, sung—

And to a Bentley ’tis we owe a Boyle.

Posterity justly appreciates the volume of Bentley for its stores of ancient literature; and the author, for that peculiar sagacity in emending a corrupt text, which formed his distinguishing characteristic as a classical critic; and since his book but for this literary quarrel had never appeared, reverses the names in the verse of the “Satirist.”



Marvell the founder of “a newly-refined art of jeering buffoonery”—his knack of nicknaming his adversaries—Parker’s Portrait—Parker suddenly changes his principles—his declamatory style—Marvell prints his anonymous letter as a motto to “The Rehearsal Transprosed”—describes him as an “At-all”—Marvell’s ludicrous description of the whole posse of answers summoned together by Parker—Marvell’s cautious allusion to Milton—his solemn invective against Parker—anecdote of Marvell and Parker—Parker retires after the second part of “The Rehearsal Transprosed”—The Recreant, reduced to silence, distils his secret vengeance in a posthumous libel.

One of the legitimate ends of satire, and one of the proud triumphs of genius, is to unmask the false zealot; to beat back the haughty spirit that is treading down all; and if it cannot teach modesty, and raise a blush, at least to inflict terror and silence. It is then that the satirist does honour to the office of the executioner.

As one whose whip of steel can with a lash
Imprint the characters of shame so deep,
Even in the brazen forehead of proud Sin,
That not eternity shall wear it out.[307]

The quarrel between Parker and Marvell is a striking example of the efficient powers of genius, in first humbling, and then annihilating, an unprincipled bravo, who had placed himself at the head of a faction.

Marvell, the under-secretary and the bosom-friend of Milton, whose fancy he has often caught in his verse, was one of the greatest wits of the luxuriant age of Charles II.; he was a master in all the arts of ridicule; and his inexhaustible spirit only required some permanent subject to have rivalled the causticity of Swift, whose style, in neatness and vivacity, seems to have been modelled on his.[308] But Marvell placed 392 the oblation of genius on a temporary altar, and the sacrifice sunk with it; he wrote to the times, and with the times his writings have passed away; yet something there is incorruptible in wit, and wherever its salt has fallen, that part is still preserved.

Such are the vigour and fertility of Marvell’s writings, that our old Chronicler of Literary History, Anthony Wood, considers him as the founder of “the then newly-refined art (though much in mode and fashion almost ever since) of sportive and jeering buffoonery;”[309] and the crabbed humorist describes “this pen-combat as briskly managed on both sides; a jerking flirting way of writing entertaining the reader, by seeing two such right cocks of the game so keenly engaging with sharp and dangerous weapons.”—Burnett calls Marvell “the liveliest droll of the age, who writ in a burlesque strain, but with so peculiar and entertaining a conduct, that from the king to the tradesman, his books were read with great pleasure.” Charles II. was a more polished judge than these uncouth critics; and, to the credit of his impartiality,—for that 393 witty monarch and his dissolute court were never spared by Marvell, who remained inflexible to his seduction—he deemed Marvell the best prose satirist of the age. But Marvell had other qualities than the freest humour and the finest wit in this “newly-refined art,” which seems to have escaped these grave critics—a vehemence of solemn reproof, and an eloquence of invective, that awes one with the spirit of the modern Junius,[310] and may give some notion of that more ancient satirist, whose writings are said to have so completely answered their design, that, after perusal, their victim hanged himself on the first tree; and in the present case, though the delinquent did not lay violent hands on himself, he did what, for an author, may be considered as desperate a course, “withdraw from the town, and cease writing for some years.”[311]

The celebrated work here to be noticed is Marvell’s “Rehearsal Transprosed;” a title facetiously adopted from Bayes in “The Rehearsal Transposed” of the Duke of Buckingham. It was written against the works and the person of Dr. Samuel Parker, afterwards Bishop of Oxford, whom he designates under the character of Bayes, to denote the incoherence and ridiculousness of his character. Marvell had a peculiar knack of calling names,—it consisted in appropriating 394 a ludicrous character in some popular comedy, and dubbing his adversaries with it. In the same spirit he ridiculed Dr. Turner, of Cambridge, a brother-genius to Parker, by nicknaming him “Mr. Smirk, the Divine in Mode,” the name of the Chaplain in Etherege’s “Man of Mode,” and thus, by a stroke of the pen, conveyed an idea of “a neat, starched, formal, and forward divine.” This application of a fictitious character to a real one, this christening a man with ridicule, though of no difficult invention, is not a little hazardous to inferior writers; for it requires not less wit than Marvell’s to bring out of the real character the ludicrous features which mark the factitious prototype.

Parker himself must have his portrait, and if the likeness be justly hit off, some may be reminded of a resemblance. Mason applies the epithet of “Mitred Dullness” to him: but although he was at length reduced to railing and to menaces, and finally mortified into silence, this epithet does not suit so hardy and so active an adventurer.

The secret history of Parker may be collected in Marvell,[312] and his more public one in our honest chronicler, Anthony Wood. Parker was originally educated in strict sectarian principles; a starch Puritan, “fasting and praying with the Presbyterian students weekly, and who, for their refection feeding only on thin broth made of oatmeal and water, were commonly called Gruellers.” Among these, says Marvell, “it was observed that he was wont to put more graves than all the rest into his porridge, and was deemed one of the preciousest[313] young men in the University.” It seems that these mortified saints, both the brotherhood and the sisterhood, held their chief meetings at the house of “Bess Hampton, an old and crooked maid that drove the trade of laundry, who, being from her youth very much given to the godly party, as they call themselves, had frequent meetings, especially for those that were her customers.” Such is the dry humour of honest Anthony, who paints like the Ostade of literary history.

But the age of sectarism and thin gruel was losing all its coldness in the sunshine of the Restoration; and this “preciousest young man,” from praying and caballing against 395 episcopacy, suddenly acquainted the world, in one of his dedications, that Dr. Ralph Bathurst had “rescued him from the chains and fetters of an unhappy education,” and, without any intermediate apology, from a sullen sectarian turned a flaming highflyer for the “supreme dominion” of the Church.[314]

It is the after-conduct of Parker that throws light on this rapid change. On speculative points any man may be suddenly converted; for these may depend on facts or arguments which might never have occurred to him before. But when we watch the weathercock chopping with the wind, so pliant to move, and so stiff when fixed—when we observe this “preciousest grueller” clothed in purple, and equally hardy in the most opposite measures—become a favourite with James II., and a furious advocate for arbitrary power; when we see him railing at and menacing those, among whom he had committed as many extravagances as any of them;[315] can we 396 hesitate to decide that this bold, haughty, and ambitious man was one of those who, having neither religion nor morality for a casting weight, can easily fly off to opposite extremes? and whether a puritan or a bishop, we must place his zeal to the same side of his religious ledger—that of the profits of barter!

The quarrel between Parker and Marvell originated in a preface,[316] written by Parker, in which he had poured down his contempt and abuse on his old companions, the Nonconformists. It was then Marvell clipped his wings with his “Rehearsal Transprosed;” his wit and humour were finely contrasted with Parker’s extravagances, set off in his declamatory style; of which Marvell wittily describes “the volume and circumference of the periods, which, though he takes always to be his chiefest strength, yet, indeed, like too great a line, weakens the defence, and requires too many men to make it good.” The tilt was now opened, and certain masqued knights appeared in the course; they attempted to grasp the sharp and polished weapon of Marvell, to turn it on himself.[317] But Marvell, with malicious ingenuity, sees Parker in them all—they so much resembled their master! “There were no less,” says the wit, “than six scaramouches together on the stage, all of them of the same gravity and behaviour, the same tone, the same habit, that it was impossible to discern which was the true author of the ‘Ecclesiastical 397 Polity.’ I believe he imitated the wisdom of some other princes, who have sometimes been persuaded by their servants to disguise several others in the regal garb, that the enemy might not know in the battle whom to single.” Parker, in fact, replied to Marvell anonymously, by “A Reproof to the Rehearsal Transprosed,” with a mild exhortation to the magistrate to crush with the secular arm the pestilent wit, the servant of Cromwell, and the friend of Milton. But this was not all; something else, anonymous too, was despatched to Marvell: it was an extraordinary letter, short enough to have been an epigram, could Parker have written one; but short as it was, it was more in character, for it was only a threat of assassination! It concluded with these words: “If thou darest to print any lie or libel against Dr. Parker, by the Eternal God I will cut thy throat.” Marvell replied to “the Reproof,” which he calls a printed letter, by the second part of “the Rehearsal Transprosed;” and to the unprinted letter, by publishing it on his own title-page.

Of two volumes of wit and broad humour, and of the most galling invective, one part flows so much into another, that the volatile spirit would be injured by an analytical process. But Marvell is now only read by the curious lovers of our literature, who find the strong, luxuriant, though not the delicate, wit of the wittiest age, never obsolete: the reader shall not, however, part from Marvell without some slight transplantations from a soil whose rich vegetation breaks out in every part.

Of the pleasantry and sarcasm, these may be considered as specimens. Parker was both author and licenser of his own work on “Ecclesiastical Polity;”[318] and it appears he got the licence for printing Marvell’s first Rehearsal recalled. The Church appeared in danger when the doctor discovered he was so furiously attacked. Marvell sarcastically rallies him on his dual capacity:—

“He is such an At-all, of so many capacities, that he would excommunicate any man who should have presumed to intermeddle with any one of his provinces. Has he been an author? he is too the licenser. Has he been a father? he will stand too for godfather. Had he acted Pyramus, he 398 would have been Moonshine too, and the Hole in the Wall. That first author of ‘Ecclesiastical Polity,’ (such as his) Nero, was of the same temper. He could not be contented with the Roman empire, unless he were too his own precentor; and lamented only the detriment that mankind must sustain at his death, in losing so considerable a fiddler.”

The satirist describes Parker’s arrogance for those whom Parker calls the vulgar, and whom he defies as “a rout of wolves and tigers, apes and buffoons;” yet his personal fears are oddly contrasted with his self-importance: “If he chance but to sneeze, he prays that the foundations of the earth be not shaken.—Ever since he crept up to be but the weathercock of a steeple, he trembles and cracks at every puff of wind that blows about him, as if the Church of England were falling.” Parker boasted, in certain philosophical “Tentamina,” or essays of his, that he had confuted the atheists: Marvell declares, “If he had reduced any atheist by his book, he can only pretend to have converted them (as in the old Florentine wars) by mere tiring them out, and perfect weariness.” A pleasant allusion to those mock fights of the Italian mercenaries, who, after parading all day, rarely unhorsed a single cavalier.

Marvell blends with a ludicrous description of his answerers great fancy:—

“The whole Posse Archidiaconatus was raised to repress me; and great rising there was, and sending post every way to pick out the ablest ecclesiastical droles to prepare an answer. Never was such a hubbub made about a sorry book. One flattered himself with being at least a surrogate; another was so modest as to set up with being but a paritor; while the most generous hoped only to be graciously smiled upon at a good dinner; but the more hungry starvelings generally looked upon it as an immediate call to a benefice; and he that could but write an answer, whatsoever it were, took it for the most dexterous, cheap, and legal way of simony. As is usual on these occasions, there arose no small competition and mutiny among the pretenders.”

It seems all the body had not impudence enough, and had too nice consciences, and could not afford an extraordinary expense in wit for the occasion. It was then

“The author of the ‘Ecclesiastical Polity’ altered his lodgings to a calumny-office, and kept open chamber for all comers, that he might be supplied himself, or supply others, 399 as there was occasion. But the information came in so slenderly, that he was glad to make use of anything rather than sit out; and there was at last nothing so slight, but it grew material; nothing so false, but he resolved it should go for truth; and what wanted in matter, he would make out with invention and artifice. So that he and his remaining comrades seemed to have set up a glass-house, the model of which he had observed from the height of his window in the neighbourhood, and the art he had been initiated into ever since from the manufacture (he will criticise because not orifacture) of soap-bubbles, he improved by degrees to the mystery of making glass-drops, and thence, in running leaps, mounted by these virtues to be Fellow of the Royal Society, Doctor of Divinity, Parson, Prebend, and Archdeacon. The furnace was so hot of itself, that there needed no coals, much less any one to blow them. One burnt the weed, another calcined the flint, a third melted down that mixture; but he himself fashioned all with his breath, and polished with his style, till, out of a mere jelly of sand and ashes, he had furnished a whole cupboard of things, so brittle and incoherent, that the least touch would break them again in pieces, and so transparent, that every man might see through them.”

Parker had accused Marvell with having served Cromwell, and being the friend of Milton, then living, at a moment when such an accusation not only rendered a man odious, but put his life in danger.[319] Marvell, who now perceived that Milton, whom he never looked on but with the eyes of reverential awe, was likely to be drawn into his quarrel, touches on this subject with infinite delicacy and tenderness, but not with diminished energy against his malignant adversary, whom he shows to have been an impertinent intruder in Milton’s house, where indeed he had first known him. He cautiously alludes to our English Homer by his initials: at that moment the very name of Milton would have tainted the page!

“J. M. was, and is, a man of great learning and sharpness of wit, as any man. It was his misfortune, living in a 400 tumultuous time, to be tossed on the wrong side; and he writ, flagrante bello, certain dangerous treatises. But some of his books, upon which you take him at advantage, were of no other nature than that one writ by your own father; only with this difference, that your father’s, which I have by me, was written with the same design, but with much less wit or judgment, for which there was no remedy, unless you will supply his judgment with his high Court of Justice. At his Majesty’s happy return, J. M. did partake, even as you yourself did, for all your huffing, of his royal clemency, and has ever since expiated himself in a retired silence. Whether it were my foresight, or my good fortune, I never contracted any friendship or confidence with you; but then it was you frequented J. M. incessantly, and haunted his house day by day. What discourses you there used, he is too generous to remember. But for you to insult over his old age, to traduce him by your scaramouches, and in your own person, as a schoolmaster, who was born and hath lived more ingenuously and liberally than yourself!”

Marvell, when he lays by his playful humour and fertile fancy for more solemn remonstrances, assumes a loftier tone, and a severity of invective, from which, indeed, Parker never recovered.

Accused by Parker of aiming to degrade the clerical character, Marvell declares his veneration for that holy vocation, and that he reflected even on the failings of the men, from whom so much is expected, with indulgent reverence:—

“Their virtues are to be celebrated with all encouragement; and if their vices be not notoriously palpable, let the eye, as it defends its organ, so conceal the object by connivance.” But there are cases when even to write satirically against a clergyman may be not only excusable, but necessary:—“The man who gets into the church by the belfry or the window, ought never to be borne in the pulpit; and so the man who illustrates his own corrupt doctrines with as ill a conversation, and adorns the lasciviousness of his life with an equal petulancy of style and language.”—In such a concurrence of misdemeanors, what is to be done? The example and the consequence so pernicious! which could not be, “if our great pastors but exercise the wisdom of common shepherds, by parting with one to stop the infection of the whole flock, when his rottenness grows notorious. Or if our clergy would but use the instinct of other creatures, and chastise the blown deer out of their herd, such mischiefs might easily be 401 remedied. In this case it is that I think a clergyman is laid open to the pen of any one that knows how to manage it; and that every person who has either wit, learning, or sobriety, is licensed, if debauched, to curb him; if erroneous, to catechise him; and if foul-mouthed and biting, to muzzle him. Such an one would never have come into the church, but to take sanctuary; rather wheresoever men shall find the footing of so wanton a satyr out of his own bounds, the neighbourhood ought, notwithstanding all his pretended capering divinity, to hunt him through the woods, with hounds and horse, home to his harbour.”

And he frames an ingenious apology for the freedom of his humour, in this attack on the morals and person of his adversary:—

“To write against him (says Marvell) is the odiousest task that ever I undertook, and has looked to me all the while like the cruelty of a living dissection; which, however it may tend to public instruction, and though I have picked out the noxious creature to be anatomised, yet doth scarce excuse the offensiveness of the scent and fouling of my fingers: therefore, I will here break off abruptly, leaving many a vein not laid open, and many a passage not searched into. But if I have undergone the drudgery of the most loathsome part already (which is his personal character), I will not defraud myself of what is more truly pleasant, the conflict with, if it may be so called, his reason.”

It was not only in these “pen-combats” that this Literary Quarrel proceeded; it seems also to have broken out in the streets; for a tale has been preserved of a rencontre, which shows at once the brutal manners of Parker, and the exquisite wit of Marvell. Parker meeting Marvell in the streets, the bully attempted to shove him from the wall: but, even there, Marvell’s agility contrived to lay him sprawling in the kennel; and looking on him pleasantly, told him to “lie there for a son of a whore!” Parker complained to the Bishop of Rochester, who immediately sent for Marvell, to reprimand him; but he maintained that the doctor had so called himself, in one of his recent publications; and pointing to the preface, where Parker declares “he is ‘a true son of his mother, the Church of England:’ and if you read further on, my lord, you find he says: ‘The Church of England has spawned two bastards, the Presbyterians and the Congregationists;’ ergo, my lord, he expressly declares that he is the son of a whore!”


Although Parker retreated from any further attack, after the second part of “The Rehearsal Transprosed,” he in truth only suppressed passions to which he was giving vent in secrecy and silence. That, indeed, was not discovered till a posthumous work of his appeared, in which one of the most striking parts is a most disgusting caricature of his old antagonist. Marvell was, indeed, a republican, the pupil of Milton, and adored his master: but his morals and his manners were Roman—he lived on the turnip of Curtius, and he would have bled at Philippi. We do not sympathise with the fierce republican spirit of those unhappy times that scalped the head feebly protected by a mitre or a crown. But the private virtues and the rich genius of such a man are pure from the taint of party. We are now to see how far private hatred can distort, in its hideous vengeance, the resemblance it affects to give after nature. Who could imagine that Parker is describing Marvell in these words?—

“Among these insolent revilers of great fame for ribaldry was one Marvell. From his youth he lived in all manner of wickedness; and thus, with a singular petulancy from nature, he performed the office of a satirist for the faction, not so much from the quickness of his wit, as from the sourness of his temper. A vagabond, ragged, hungry poetaster, beaten at every tavern, where he daily received the rewards of his impudence in kicks and blows.[320] By the interest of Milton, to whom he was somewhat agreeable for his malignant wit, he became the under-secretary to Cromwell’s secretary.”

And elsewhere he calls him “a drunken buffoon,” and asserts that “he made his conscience more cheap than he had formerly made his reputation;” but the familiar anecdote of Marvell’s political honesty, when, wanting a dinner, he declined the gold sent to him by the king, sufficiently replies to the calumniator. Parker, then in his retreat, seems not to have been taught anything like modesty by his silence, as Burnet conjectured; who says, “That a face of brass must grow red when it is burnt as his was.” It was even then that the recreant, in silence, was composing the libel, which his cowardice dared not publish, but which his invincible malice has sent down to posterity.




Calamities of Epic Poets—Character and Anecdotes of D’Avenant—attempts a new vein of invention—the Critics marshalled against each other on the “Gondibert”—D’Avenant’s sublime feelings of Literary Fame—attacked by a Club of Wits in two books of Verses—the strange misconception hitherto given respecting the Second Part—various specimens of the Satires on Gondibert, the Poet, and his Panegyrist Hobbes—the Poet’s silence; and his neglect of the unfinished Epic, while the Philosopher keenly retorts on the Club, and will not allow of any authority in Wit.

The memoirs of epic poets, in as far as they relate to the history of their own epics, would be the most calamitous of all the suitors of the Muses, whether their works have reached us, or scarcely the names of the poets. An epic, which has sometimes been the labour of a life, is the game of the wits and the critics. One ridicules what is written; the other censures for what has not been written:—and it has happened, in some eminent instances, that the rudest assailants of him who “builds the lofty rhyme,” have been his ungenerous contemporaries. Men, whose names are now endeared to us, and who have left their ΚΤΗΜΑ ΕΣ ΑΕΙ, which Hobbes so energetically translates “a possession for everlasting,” have bequeathed an inheritance to posterity, of which they have never been in the receipt of the revenue. “The first fruits” of genius have been too often gathered to place upon its tomb. Can we believe that Milton did not endure mortification from the neglect of “evil days,” as certainly as Tasso was goaded to madness by the systematic frigidity of his critics? He who is now before us had a mind not less exalted than Milton or Tasso; but was so effectually ridiculed, that he has only sent us down the fragment of a great work.

One of the curiosities in the history of our poetry, is the Gondibert of D’Avenant; and the fortunes and the fate of this epic are as extraordinary as the poem itself. Never has 404 an author deserved more copious memoirs than the fertility of this man’s genius claims. His life would have exhibited a moving picture of genius in action and in contemplation. With all the infirmities of lively passions, he had all the redeeming virtues of magnanimity and generous affections; but with the dignity and the powers of a great genius, falling among an age of wits, he was covered by ridicule. D’Avenant was a man who had viewed human life in all its shapes, and had himself taken them. A poet and a wit, the creator of the English stage with the music of Italy and the scenery of France; a soldier, an emigrant, a courtier, and a politician:—he was, too, a state-prisoner, awaiting death with his immortal poem in his hand;[321] and at all times a philosopher!

That hardiness of enterprise which had conducted him through life, brought the same novelty, and conferred on him the same vigour in literature.

D’Avenant attempted to open a new vein of invention in 405 narrative poetry; which not to call epic, he termed heroic; and which we who have more completely emancipated ourselves from the arbitrary mandates of Aristotle and Bossu, have since styled romantic. Scott, Southey, and Byron have taught us this freer scope of invention, but characterised by a depth of passion which is not found in D’Avenant. In his age, the title which he selected to describe the class of his poetical narrative, was a miserable source of petty criticism. It was decreed that every poem should resemble another poem, on the plan of the ancient epic. This was the golden age of “the poet-apes,” till they found that it was easier to produce epic writers than epic readers.

But our poet, whose manly genius had rejected one great absurdity, had the folly to adopt another. The first reformers are always more heated with zeal than enlightened by sagacity. The four-and-twenty chapters of an epic, he perceived, were but fantastical divisions, and probably, originally, but accidental; yet he proposed another form as chimerical; he imagined that by having only five he was constructing his poem on the dramatic plan of five acts. He might with equal propriety have copied the Spanish comedy which I once read, in twenty-five acts, and in no slender folio. “Sea-marks (says D’Avenant, alluding to the works of antiquity) are chiefly useful to coasters, and serve not those who have the ambition of discoverers, that love to sail in untried seas;” and yet he was attempting to turn an epic poem into a monstrous drama, from the servile habits he had contracted from his intercourse with the theatre! This error of the poet has, however, no material influence on the “Gondibert,” as it has come down to us; for, discouraged and ridiculed, our adventurer never finished his voyage of discovery. He who had so nobly vindicated the freedom of the British Muse from the meanness of imitation, and clearly defined what such a narrative as he intended should be, “a perfect glass of nature, which gives us a familiar and easy view of ourselves,” did not yet perceive that there is no reason why a poetical narrative should be cast into any particular form, or be longer or shorter than the interest it excites will allow.

More than a century and a half have elapsed since the first publication of “Gondibert,” and its merits are still a subject of controversy; and indubitable proof of some inherent excellence not willingly forgotten. The critics are marshalled on each side, one against the other, while between these formidable 406 lines stands the poet, with a few scattered readers;[322] but what is more surprising in the history of the “Gondibert,” the poet is a great poet, the work imperishable!

The “Gondibert” has poetical defects fatal for its popularity; the theme was not happily chosen; the quatrain has been discovered by capricious ears to be unpleasing, though its 407 solemnity was felt by Dryden.[323] The style is sometimes harsh and abrupt, though often exquisite; and the fable is deficient in that rapid interest which the story-loving readers of all times seem most to regard. All these are diseases which would have long since proved mortal in a poem less vital; but our poet was a commanding genius, who redeemed his bold errors by his energetic originality. The luxuriancy of his fancy, the novelty of his imagery, the grandeur of his views of human life; his delight in the new sciences of his age;—these are some of his poetical virtues. But, above all, we dwell on the impressive solemnity of his philosophical reflections, and his condensed epigrammatic thoughts. The work is often more ethical than poetical; yet, while we feel ourselves becoming wiser at every page, in the fulness of our minds we still perceive that our emotions have been seldom stirred by passion. The poem falls from our hands! yet is there none of which we wish to retain so many single verses. D’Avenant is a poetical Rochefoucault; the sententious force of his maxims on all human affairs could only have been composed by one who had lived in a constant intercourse with mankind.[324]


A delightful invention in this poem is “the House of Astragon,” a philosophical residence. Every great poet is affected by the revolutions of his age. The new experimental philosophy had revived the project of Lord Bacon’s learned retirement, in his philosophical romance of the Atalantis; and subsequently in a time of civil repose after civil war, Milton, Cowley, and Evelyn attempted to devote an abode to science itself. These tumults of the imagination subsided in the establishment of the Royal Society. D’Avenant anticipated this institution. On an estate consecrated to philosophy stands a retired building on which is inscribed, “Great Nature’s Office,” inhabited by sages, who are styled “Nature’s Registers,” busily recording whatever is brought to them by “a throng of Intelligencers,” who make “patient observations” in the field, the garden, the river, on every plant, and “every fish, and fowl, and beast.” Near at hand is “Nature’s Nursery,” a botanical garden. We have also “a Cabinet of Death,” “the Monument of Bodies,” an anatomical collection, which leads to “the Monument of vanished Minds,” as the poet finely describes the library. Is it not striking to find, says Dr. Aikin, so exact a model of the school of Linnæus?

This was a poem to delight a philosopher; and Hobbes, in a curious epistle prefixed to the work, has strongly marked its distinct beauties. “Gondibert” not only came forth with the elaborate panegyric of Hobbes, but was also accompanied by the high commendatory poems of Waller and Cowley; a cause which will sufficiently account for the provocations it inflamed among the poetical crew; and besides these accompaniments, there is a preface of great length, stamped with all the force and originality of the poet’s own mind; and a postscript, as sublime from the feelings which dictated it as from the time and place of its composition.

In these, this great genius pours himself out with all that “glory of which his large soul appears to have been full,” as Hurd has nobly expressed it.[325] Such a conscious dignity of 409 character struck the petulant wits with a provoking sense of their own littleness.

A club of wits caballed and produced a collection of short poems sarcastically entitled “Certain Verses written by several of the Author’s Friends, to be reprinted in the Second Edition of ‘Gondibert,’” 1653. Two years after appeared a brother volume, entitled “The Incomparable Poem of Gondibert vindicated from the Wit-Combats of Four Esquires; Clinias, Dametas, Sancho and Jack Pudding;”[326] with these mottoes:

Κοτέει καὶ ἀοίδος ἀοίδῳ.

Vatum quoque gratia, rara est.


One wit-brother

Envies another.


Of these rare tracts, we are told by Anthony Wood and all subsequent literary historians, too often mere transcribers of title-pages, that the second was written by our author himself. Would not one imagine that it was a real vindication, or at least a retort-courteous on these obliging friends. The irony of the whole volume has escaped their discovery. The second tract is a continuation of the satire: a mock defence, where the sarcasm and the pretended remonstrance are sometimes keener than the open attack. If, indeed, D’Avenant were the author of a continuation of a satire on himself, it is an act of felo de se no poet ever committed; a self-flagellation by an iron whip, where blood is drawn at every stroke, the most penitent bard never inflicted on himself. Would D’Avenant have bantered his proud labour, by calling it “incomparable?” And were it true, that he felt the strokes of their witty malignity so lightly, would he not have secured his triumph by finishing that “Gondibert,” “the monument of his mind?” It is too evident that this committee of wits hurt the quiet of a great mind.

As for this series of literary satires, it might have been expected, that since the wits clubbed, this committee ought to have been more effective in their operations. Many of their papers were, no doubt, more blotted with their wine than their ink. Their variety of attack is playful, sarcastic, and malicious. They were then such exuberant wits, that they could make even ribaldry and grossness witty. My business with these wicked trifles is only as they concerned the feelings of the great poet, whom they too evidently hurt, as well as the great philosopher who condescended to notice these wits, with wit more dignified than their own.

Unfortunately for our “jeered Will,” as in their usual court-style they call him, he had met with “a foolish mischance,” well known among the collectors of our British portraits. There was a feature in his face, or rather no feature at all, that served as a perpetual provocative: there was no precedent of such a thing, says Suckling, in “The Sessions of the Poets”—

In all their records, in verse or in prose,
There was none of a Laureat who wanted a nose.

Besides, he was now doomed—

Nor could old Hobbes
Defend him from dry bobbs.

The preface of “Gondibert,” the critical epistle of Hobbes, 411 and the poems of the two greatest poets in England, were first to be got rid of. The attack is brisk and airy.


Room for the best of poets heroic,
If you’ll believe two wits and a Stoic.
Down go the Iliads, down go the Æneidos:
All must give place to the Gondiberteidos.
For to Homer and Virgil he has a just pique,
Because one’s writ in Latin, the other in Greek;
Besides an old grudge (our critics they say so)
With Ovid, because his sirname was Naso.
If fiction the fame of a poet thus raises,
What poets are you that have writ his praises?
But we justly quarrel at this our defeat;
You give us a stomach, he gives us no meat.
A preface to no book, a porch to no house;
Here is the mountain, but where is the mouse?

This stroke, in the mock defence, is thus warded off, with a slight confession of the existence of “the mouse.”

Why do you bite, you men of fangs
(That is, of teeth that forward hangs),
And charge my dear Ephestion
With want of meat? you want digestion.
We poets use not so to do,
To find men meat and stomach too.
You have the book, you have the house,
And mum, good Jack, and catch the mouse.

Among the personal foibles of D’Avenant appears a desire to disguise his humble origin; and to give it an air of lineal descent, he probably did not write his name as his father had done. It is said he affected, at the cost of his mother’s honour, to insinuate that he was the son of Shakspeare, who used to bait at his father’s inn.[327] These humorists first reduce D’Avenant to “Old Daph.”


Denham, come help me to laugh,

At old Daph,

Whose fancies are higher than chaff.

Daph swells afterwards into “Daphne;” a change of sex inflicted on the poet for making one of his heroines a man; and this new alliance to Apollo becomes a source of perpetual allusion to the bays—

Cheer up, small wits, now you shall crowned be,—
Daphne himself is turn’d into a tree.

One of the club inquires about the situation of Avenant

——where now it lies,
Whether in Lombard,[328] or the skies.

Because, as seven cities disputed for the birth of Homer, so after ages will not want towns claiming to be Avenant

Some say by Avenant no place is meant,
And that our Lombard is without descent;
And as, by Bilk, men mean there’s nothing there,
So come from Avenant, means from no where.
Thus Will, intending D’Avenant to grace,
Has made a notch in’s name like that in’s face.

D’Avenant had been knighted for his good conduct at the siege of Gloucester, and was to be tried by the Parliament, but procured his release without trial. This produces the following sarcastic epigram:—


The King knights Will for fighting on his side;
Yet when Will comes for fighting to be tried,
There is not one in all the armies can
Say they e’er felt, or saw, this fighting man.
Strange, that the Knight should not be known i’ th’ field;
A face well charged, though nothing in his shield.
Sure fighting Will like basilisk did ride
Among the troops, and all that saw Will died;
Else how could Will, for fighting, be a Knight,
And none alive that ever saw Will fight?

Of the malignancy of their wit, we must preserve one specimen. They probably harassed our poet with anonymous 413 despatches from the Club: for there appears another poem on D’Avenant’s anger on such an occasion:—


Thou hadst not been thus long neglected,
But we, thy four best friends, expected,
Ere this time, thou hadst stood corrected.
But since that planet governs still,
That rules thy tedious fustain quill
’Gainst nature and the Muses’ will;
When, by thy friends’ advice and care,
’Twas hoped, in time, thou wouldst despair
To give ten pounds to write it fair;
Lest thou to all the world would show it,
We thought it fit to let thee know it:
Thou art a damn’d insipid poet!

These literary satires contain a number of other “pasquils,” burlesquing the characters, the incidents, and the stanza, of the Gondibert: some not the least witty are the most gross, and must not be quoted; thus the wits of that day were poetical suicides, who have shortened their lives by their folly.

D’Avenant, like more than one epic poet, did not tune to his ear the names of his personages. They have added, to show that his writings are adapted to an easy musical singer, the names of his heroes and heroines, in these verses:—

Hurgonil, Astolpho, Borgia, Goltha, Tibalt,
Astragon, Hermogild, Ulfinor, Orgo, Thula.

And “epithets that will serve for any substantives, either in this part or the next.”

Such are the labours of the idlers of genius, envious of the nobler industry of genius itself!—How the great author’s spirit was nourished by the restoratives of his other friends, after the bitter decoctions prescribed by these “Four,” I fear we may judge by the unfinished state in which “Gondibert” has come down to us. D’Avenant seems, however, to have guarded his dignity by his silence; but Hobbes took an opportunity of delivering an exquisite opinion on this Club of Wits, with perfect philosophical indifference. It is in a letter to the Hon. Edward Howard, who requested to have his sentiments on another heroic poem of his own, “The British Princes.”

“My judgment in poetry hath, you know, been once already censured, by very good wits, for commending ‘Gondibert;’ but yet they have not, I think, disabled my testimony. For, 414 what authority is there in wit? A jester may have it; a man in drink may have it, and be fluent over-night, and wise and dry in the morning. What is it? or who can tell whether it be better to have it, or be without it, especially if it be a pointed wit? I will take my liberty to praise what I like, as well as they do to reprehend what they do not like.”

The stately “Gondibert” was not likely to recover favour in the court of Charles the Second, where man was never regarded in his true greatness, but to be ridiculed; a court where the awful presence of Clarendon became so irksome, that the worthless monarch exiled him; a court where nothing was listened to but wit at the cost of sense, the injury of truth, and the violation of decency; where a poem of magnitude with new claims was a very business for those volatile arbiters of taste; an epic poem that had been travestied and epigrammed, was a national concern with them, which, next to some new state-plot, that occurred oftener than a new epic, might engage the monarch and his privy council. These were not the men to be touched by the compressed reflections and the ideal virtues personified in this poem. In the court of the laughing voluptuary the manners as well as the morals of these satellites of pleasure were so little heroic, that those of the highest rank, both in birth and wit, never mentioned each other but with the vulgar familiarity of nicknames, or the coarse appellatives of Dick, Will, and Jack! Such was the era when the serious “Gondibert” was produced, and such were the judges who seem to have decided its fate.



The “Mercuries” and “Diurnals,” archives of political fictions—“The Diurnals,” in the pay of the Parliament, described by Butler and Cleveland—Sir John Birkenhead excels in sarcasm, with specimens of his “Mercurius Aulicus”—how he corrects his own lies—Specimens of the Newspapers on the side of the Commonwealth.

Among these battles of logomachy, in which so much ink has been spilt, and so many pens have lost their edge—at a very solemn period in our history, when all around was distress and sorrow, stood forwards the facetious ancestors of that numerous progeny who still flourish among us, and who, without a suspicion of their descent, still bear the features of their progenitors, and inherit so many of the family humours. These were the Mercuries and Diurnals—the newspapers of our Civil Wars.

The distinguished heroes of these Paper-Wars, Sir John Birkenhead, Marchmont Needham, and Sir Roger L’Estrange, I have elsewhere portrayed.[329] We have had of late correct lists of these works; but no one seems as yet to have given any clear notion of their spirit and their manner.

The London Journals in the service of the Parliament were usually the Diurnals. These politicians practised an artifice which cannot be placed among “the lost inventions.” As these were hawked about the metropolis to spur curiosity, often languid from over-exercise, or to wheedle an idle spectator into a reader, every paper bore on its front the inviting heads of its intelligence. Men placed in the same circumstances will act in the same manner, without any notion of imitation; and the passions of mankind are now addressed by the same means which our ancestors employed, by those who do not suspect they are copying them.

These Diurnals have been blasted by the lightnings of 416 Butler and Cleveland. Hudibras is made happy at the idea that he may be

Register’d by fame eternal,
In deathless pages of Diurnal.

But Cleveland has left us two remarkable effusions of his satiric and vindictive powers, in his curious character of “A Diurnal Maker,” and “A London Diurnal.” He writes in the peculiar vein of the wit of those times, with an originality of images, whose combinations excite surprise, and whose abundance fatigues our weaker delicacy.

“A Diurnal-Maker is the Sub-Almoner of History; Queen Mab’s Register; one whom, by the same figure that a North-country pedler is a merchantman, you may style an author. The silly countryman who, seeing an ape in a scarlet coat, blessed his young worship, and gave his landlord joy of the hopes of his house, did not slander his compliment with worse application than he that names this shred an historian. To call him an Historian is to knight a Mandrake; ’tis to view him through a perspective, and, by that gross hyperbole, to give the reputation of an engineer to a maker of mousetraps. When these weekly fragments shall pass for history, let the poor man’s box be entitled the Exchequer, and the alms-basket a Magazine. Methinks the Turke should license Diurnals, because he prohibits learning and books.” He characterises the Diurnal as “a puny chronicle, scarce pin-feathered with the wings of time; it is a history in sippets; the English Iliads in a nutshell; the Apocryphal Parliament’s Book of Maccabees in single sheets.”

But Cleveland tells us that these Diurnals differ from a Mercurius Aulicus (the paper of his party),—“as the Devil and his Exorcist, or as a black witch doth from a white one, whose office is to unravel her enchantments.”

The Mercurius Aulicus was chiefly conducted by Sir John Birkenhead, at Oxford, “communicating the intelligence and affairs of the court to the rest of the kingdom.” Sir John was a great wag, and excelled in sarcasm and invective; his facility is equal to repartee, and his spirit often reaches to wit: a great forger of tales, who probably considered that a romance was a better thing than a newspaper.[330] The royal 417 party were so delighted with his witty buffoonery, that Sir John was recommended to be Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford. Did political lying seem to be a kind of moral philosophy to the feelings of a party? The originality of Birkenhead’s happy manner consists in his adroit use of sarcasm: he strikes it off by means of a parenthesis. I shall give, as a specimen, one of his summaries of what the Parliamentary Journals had been detailing during the week.

“The Londoners in print this week have been pretty copious. They say that a troop of the Marquess of Newcastle’s horse have submitted to the Lord Fairfax. (They were part of the German horse which came over in the Danish fleet.)[331] That the Lord Wilmot hath been dead five weeks, but the Cavaliers concealed his death. (Remember this!) That Sir John Urrey[332] is dead and buried at Oxford. (He died the same day with the Lord Wilmot.) That the 418 Cavaliers, before they have done, will Hurrey all men into misery. (This quibble hath been six times printed, and nobody would take notice of it; now let’s hear of it no more!) That all the Cavaliers which Sir William Waller took prisoners (besides 500) tooke the National Covenant. (Yes, all he took (besides 500) tooke the Covenant.) That 2000 Irish Rebels landed in Wales. (You called them English Protestants till you cheated them of their money.) That Sir William Brereton left 140 good able men in Hawarden Castle. (’Tis the better for Sir Michael Earnley, who hath taken the Castle.) That the Queen hath a great deafnesse. (Thou hast a great blister on thy tongue.) That the Cavaliers burned all the suburbs of Chester, that Sir William Brereton might find no shelter to besiedge it. (There was no hayrick, and Sir William cares for no other shelter.)[333] The Scottish Dove says (there are Doves in Scotland!) that Hawarden Castle had but forty men in it when the Cavaliers took it. (Another told you there were 140 lusty stout fellows in it: for shame, gentlemen! conferre Notes!) That Colonel Norton at Rumsey took 200 prisoners. (I saw them counted: they were just two millions.) Then the Dove hath this sweet passage: O Aulicus, thou profane wretch, that darest scandalize God’s saints, darest thou call that loyal subject Master Pym a 419 traitor? (Yes, pretty Pigeon,[334] he was charged with six articles by his Majesty’s Atturney Generall.) Next he says, that Master Pym died like Moses upon the Mount. (He did not die upon the mount, but should have done.) Then he says Master Pym died in a good old age, like Jacob in Egypt. (Not like Jacob, yet just as those died in Egypt in the days of Pharaoh.”)[335]

As Sir John was frequently the propagator of false intelligence, it was necessary at times to seem scrupulous, and to correct some slight errors. He does this very adroitly, without diminishing his invectives.

“We must correct a mistake or two in our two last weeks. We advertised you of certain money speeches made by Master John Sedgwick: on better information, it was not John, but Obadiah, Presbyter of Bread-street, who in the pulpit in hot weather used to unbutton his doublet, which John, who wanteth a thumbe, forbears to practise. And when we told you last week of a committee of Lawyers appointed to put their new Seale in execution, we named, among others, Master George Peard.[336] I confess this was no small errour to reckon 420 Master Peard among the Lawyers, because he now lies sicke, and so farre from being their new Lord Keeper, that he now despairs to become their Door Keeper, which office he performed heretofore. But since Master Peard has become desperately sick; and so his vote, his law, and haire have all forsook him, his corporation of Barnstable have been in perfect health and loyalty. The town of Barnstable having submitted to the King, this will no doubt be a special cordial for their languishing Burgess. And yet the man may grow hearty again when he hears of the late defeat given to his Majesty’s forces in Lincolnshire.”

This paper was immediately answered by Marchmont Needham, in his “Mercurius Britannicus,” who cannot boast the playful and sarcastic bitterness of Sir John; yet is not the dullest of his tribe. He opens his reply thus:

“Aulicus will needs venture his soule upon the other half-sheet; and this week he lies, as completely as ever he did in two full sheets; full of as many scandals and fictions, full of as much stupidity and ignorance, full of as many tedious untruths as ever. And because he would recrute the reputation of his wit, he falls into the company of our Diurnals very furiously, and there lays about him in the midst of our weekly pamphlets; and he casts in the few squibs, and the little wildfire he hath, dashing out his conceits; and he takes it ill that the poore scribblers should tell a story for their living; and after a whole week spent at Oxford, in inke and paper, to as little purpose as Maurice spent his shot and powder at Plimouth, he gets up, about Saturday, into a jingle or two, for he cannot reach to a full jest; and I am informed that the three-quarter conceits in the last leafe of his Diurnall cost him fourteen pence in aqua vitæ.”

Sir John never condescends formally to reply to Needham, for which he gives this singular reason:—“As for this libeller, we are still resolved to take no notice till we find him able to spell his own name, which to this hour Britannicus never did.”

In the next number of Needham, who had always written it Brittanicus, the correction was silently adopted. There was no crying down the etymology of an Oxford malignant.

I give a short narrative of the political temper of the times, in their unparalleled gazettes.

At the first breaking out of the parliament’s separation from the royal party, when the public mind, full of consternation 421 in that new anarchy, shook with the infirmity of childish terrors, the most extravagant reports were as eagerly caught up as the most probable, and served much better the purposes of their inventors. They had daily discoveries of new conspiracies, which appeared in a pretended correspondence written from Spain, France, Italy, or Denmark: they had their amusing literature, mixed with their grave politics; and a dialogue between “a Dutch mariner and an English ostler,” could alarm the nation as much as the last letter from their “private correspondent.” That the wildest rumours were acceptable appears from their contemporary Fuller. Armies were talked of, concealed under ground by the king, to cut the throats of all the Protestants in a night. He assures us that one of the most prevailing dangers among the Londoners was “a design laid for a mine of powder under the Thames, to cause the river to drown the city.” This desperate expedient, it seems, was discovered just in time to prevent its execution; and the people were devout enough to have a public thanksgiving, and watched with a little more care that the Thames might not be blown up. However, the plot was really not so much at the bottom of the Thames as at the bottom of their purses. Whenever they wanted 100,000l. they raised a plot, they terrified the people, they appointed a thanksgiving-day, and while their ministers addressed to God himself all the news of the week, and even reproached him for the rumours against their cause, all ended, as is usual at such times, with the gulled multitude contributing more heavily to the adventurers who ruled them than the legal authorities had exacted in their greatest wants. “The Diurnals” had propagated thirty-nine of these “Treasons, or new Taxes,” according to one of the members of the House of Commons, who had watched their patriotic designs.

These “Diurnals” sometimes used such language as the following, from The Weekly Accompt, January, 1643:—

“This day afforded no newes at all, but onely what was heavenly and spiritual;” and he gives an account of the public fast, and of the grave divine Master Henderson’s sermon, with his texts in the morning; and in the afternoon, another of Master Strickland, with his texts—and of their spiritual effect over the whole parliament![337]


Such news as the following was sometimes very agreeable:—

“From Oxford it is informed, that on Sunday last was fortnight in the evening, Prince Rupert, accompanied with some lords, and other cavaliers, danced through the streets openly, with music before them, to one of the colleges; where, after they had stayed about half an houre, they returned back again, dancing with the same music; and immediately there followed a pack of women, or curtizans, as it may be supposed, for they were hooded, and could not be knowne; and this the party who related affirmed he saw with his own eyes.”

On this the Diurnal-maker pours out severe anathemas—and one with a note, that “dancing and drabbing are inseparable companions, and follow one another close at the heels.” He assures his readers, that the malignants, or royalists, only fight like sensual beasts, to maintain their dancing and drabbing!—Such was the revolutionary tone here, and such the arts of faction everywhere. The matter was rather peculiar to our country, but the principle was the same as practised in France. Men of opposite characters, when acting for the same concealed end, must necessarily form parallels.




Anthony Wood and Locke—Milton and Sprat—Burnet and his History—Prior and Addison—Swift and Steele—Wagstaffe and Steele—Steele and Addison—Hooke and Middleton—Gilbert Wakefield—Marvel and Milton—Clarendon and May.

Voltaire, in his letters on our nation, has hit off a marked feature in our national physiognomy. “So violent did I find parties in London, that I was assured by several that the Duke of Marlborough was a coward, and Mr. Pope a fool.”

A foreigner indeed could hardly expect that in collecting the characters of English authors by English authors (a labour which has long afforded me pleasure often interrupted by indignation)—in a word, that a class of literary history should turn out a collection of personal quarrels. Would not this modern Baillet, in his new Jugemens des Sçavans, so ingeniously inquisitive but so infinitely confused, require to be initiated into the mysteries of that spirit of party peculiar to our free country!

All that boiling rancour which sputters against the thoughts, the style, the taste, the moral character of an author, is often nothing more than practising what, to give it a name, we may call Political Criticism in Literature; where an author’s literary character is attacked solely from the accidental circumstance of his differing in opinion from his critics on subjects unconnected with the topics he treats of.

Could Anthony Wood, had he not been influenced by this political criticism, have sent down Locke to us as “a man of a turbulent spirit, clamorous, and never contented, prating and troublesome?”[338] But Locke was the antagonist of Filmer, that advocate of arbitrary power; and Locke is 424 described “as bred under a fanatical tutor,” and when in Holland, as one of those who under the Earl of Shaftesbury “stuck close to him when discarded, and carried on the trade of faction beyond and within the seas several years after.” In the great original genius, born, like Bacon and Newton, to create a new era in the history of the human mind, this political literary critic, who was not always deficient in his perceptions of genius, could only discover “a trader in faction,” though in his honesty he acknowledges him to be “a noted writer.”

A more illustrious instance of party-spirit operating against works of genius is presented to us in the awful character of Milton. From earliest youth to latest age endowed with all the characteristics of genius; fervent with all the inspirations of study; in all changes still the same great literary character as Velleius Paterculus writes of one of his heroes—“Aliquando fortunâ, semper animo maximus:” while in his own day, foreigners, who usually anticipate posterity, were inquiring after Milton, it is known how utterly disregarded he lived at home. The divine author of the “Paradise Lost” was always connected with the man for whom a reward was offered in the London Gazette. But in their triumph, the lovers of monarchy missed their greater glory, in not separating for ever the republican Secretary of State from the rival of Homer.

That the genius of Milton pined away in solitude, and that all the consolations of fame were denied him during his life, from this political criticism on his works, is generally known; but not perhaps that this spirit propagated itself far beyond the poet’s tomb. I give a remarkable instance. Bishop Sprat, who surely was capable of feeling the poetry of Milton, yet from political antipathy retained such an abhorrence of his name, that when the writer of the Latin Inscription on the poet John Philips, in describing his versification, applied to it the term Miltono, Sprat ordered it to be erased, as 425 polluting a monument raised in a church.[339] A mere critical opinion on versification was thus sacrificed to political feeling:—a stream indeed which in its course has hardly yet worked itself clear. It could only have been the strong political feeling of Warton which could have induced him to censure the prose of Milton with such asperity, while he closed his critical eyes on its resplendent passages, which certainly he wanted not the taste to feel,—for he caught in his own pages, occasionally, some of the reflected warmth. This feeling took full possession of the mind of Johnson, who, with all the rage of political criticism on subjects of literature, has condemned the finest works of Milton, and in one of his terrible paroxysms has demonstrated that the Samson Agonistes is “a tragedy which ignorance has admired and bigotry applauded.” Had not Johnson’s religious feelings fortunately interposed between Milton and his “Paradise,” we should have wanted the present noble effusion of his criticism; any other Epic by Milton 426 had probably sunk beneath his vigorous sophistry, and his tasteless sarcasm. Lauder’s attack on Milton was hardily projected, on a prospect of encouragement, from this political criticism on the literary character of Milton; and he succeeded as long as he could preserve the decency of the delusion.

The Spirit of Party has touched with its plague-spot the character of Burnet; it has mildewed the page of a powerful mind, and tainted by its suspicions, its rumours, and its censures, his probity as a man. Can we forbear listening to all the vociferations which faction has thrown out? Do we not fear to trust ourselves amid the multiplicity of his facts? And when we are familiarised with the variety of his historical portraits, are we not startled when it is suggested that “they are tinged with his own passions and his own weaknesses?” Burnet has indeed made “his humble appeal to the great God of Truth” that he has given it as fully as he could find it; and he has expressed his abhorrence of “a lie in history,” so much greater a sin than a lie in common discourse, from its lasting and universal nature. Yet these hallowing protestations have not saved him! A cloud of witnesses, from different motives, have risen up to attaint his veracity and his candour; while all the Tory wits have ridiculed his style, impatiently inaccurate, and uncouthly negligent, and would sink his vigour and ardour, while they expose the meanness and poverty of his genius. Thus the literary and the moral character of no ordinary author have fallen a victim to party-feeling.[340]


But this victim to political criticism on literature was himself criminal, and has wreaked his own party feelings on the Papist Dryden, and the Tory Prior; Dryden he calls, in the 428 most unguarded language, “a monster of immodesty and impurity of all sorts.” There had been a literary quarrel between Dryden and Burnet respecting a translation of Varillas’ “History of Heresies;” Burnet had ruined the credit of the papistical author while Dryden was busied on the translation; and as Burnet says, “he has wreaked his malice on me for spoiling his three months’ labour.” In return, he kindly informs Dryden, alluding to his poem of “The Hind and the Panther,” “that he is the author of the worst poem the age has produced;” and that as for “his morals, it is scarce possible to grow a worse man than he was”—a personal style not to be permitted in any controversy, but to bring this passion on the hallowed ground of history, was not “casting away his shoe” in the presence of the divinity of truth.[341] It could only have been the spirit of party which 429 induced Burnet, in his History, to mention with contempt and pretended ignorance so fine a genius as “one Prior, who had been Jersey’s secretary.” It was the same party-feeling in the Tory Prior, in his elegant “Alma,” where he has interwoven so graceful a wreath for Pope, that could sneer at the fine soliloquy of the Roman Cato of the Whig Addison:

I hope you would not have me die
Like simple Cato in the play,
For anything that he can say.

It was the same spirit which would not allow that Garth was the author of his celebrated poem—

Garth did not write his own Dispensary,

as Pope ironically alludes to the story of the times:—a contemporary wit has recorded this literary injury, by repeating it.[342] And Swift, who once exclaimed to Pope, “The deuce take party!” was himself the greatest sinner of them all. He, once the familiar friend of Steele till party divided them, not only emptied his shaft of quivers against his literary character, but raised the horrid yell of the war-whoop in his inhuman exultation over the unhappy close of the desultory life of a man of genius. Bitterly has he written—

From perils of a hundred jails,
Withdrew to starve, and die in Wales.

When Steele published “The Crisis,” Swift attacked the author in so exquisite a piece of grave irony, that I am tempted to transcribe his inimitable parallels of a triumvirate composed of the writer of the Flying Post, Dunton the literary projector, and poor Steele: the one, the Iscariot of hackney scribes; the other a crack-brained scribbling bookseller, who boasted he had a thousand projects, fancied he had 430 methodised six hundred, and was ruined by the fifty he executed. The following is a specimen of that powerful irony in which Swift excelled all other writers; that fine Cervantic humour, that provoking coolness which Swift preserves while he is panegyrising the objects of his utter contempt.

“Among the present writers on the Whig side, I can recollect but three of any great distinction, which are the Flying Post, Mr. Dunton, and the Author of ‘The Crisis.’ The first of these seems to have been much sunk in reputation since the sudden retreat of the only true, genuine, original author, Mr. Ridpath, who is celebrated by the Dutch Gazetteer as one of the best pens in England. Mr. Dunton hath been longer and more conversant in books than any of the three, as well as more voluminous in his productions: however, having employed his studies in so great a variety of other subjects, he hath, I think, but lately turned his genius to politics. His famous tract entitled ‘Neck or Nothing’ must be allowed to be the shrewdest piece, and written with the most spirit of any which hath appeared from that side since the change of the ministry. It is indeed a most cutting satire upon the Lord Treasurer and Lord Bolingbroke; and I wonder none of our friends ever undertook to answer it. I confess I was at first of the same opinion with several good judges, who from the style and manner suppose it to have issued from the sharp pen of the Earl of Nottingham; and I am still apt to think it might receive his lordship’s last hand. The third and principal of this triumvirate is the author of ‘The Crisis,’ who, although he must yield to the Flying Post in knowledge of the world and skill in politics, and to Mr. Dunton in keenness of satire and variety of reading, hath yet other qualities enough to denominate him a writer of a superior class to either, provided he would a little regard the propriety and disposition of his words, consult the grammatical part, and get some information on the subject he intends to handle.”[343]


So far this fine ironical satire may be inspected as a model; the polished weapon he strikes with so gracefully, is allowed by all the laws of war; but the political criticism on the literary character, the party feeling which degrades a man of genius, is the drop of poison on its point.

Steele had declared in the “Crisis” that he had always maintained an inviolable respect for the clergy. Swift (who perhaps was aimed at in this instance, and whose character, since the publication of “The Tale of a Tub,” lay under a suspicion of an opposite tendency) turns on Steele with all the vigour of his wit, and all the causticity of retort:—

“By this he would insinuate that those papers among the Tatlers and Spectators, where the whole order is abused, were not his own. I will appeal to all who know the flatness of his style, and the barrenness of his invention, whether he doth not grossly prevaricate? Was he ever able to walk without his leading-strings, or swim without bladders, without being discovered by his hobbling or his sinking?

Such was the attack of Swift, which was pursued in the Examiner, and afterwards taken up by another writer. This is one of the evils resulting from the wantonness of genius: it gives a contagious example to the minor race; its touch opens a new vein of invention, which the poorer wits soon break into; the loose sketch of a feature or two from its rapid hand is sufficient to become a minute portrait, where not a hair is spared by the caricaturist. This happened to Steele, whose literary was to be sacrificed to his political character; and this superstructure was confessedly raised on the malicious hints we have been noticing. That the Examiner was the seed-plot of “The Character of Richard St—le, Esq.,” appears by its opening—“It will be no injury, I am persuaded, to the Examiner to borrow him a little (Steele), upon promise of returning him safe, as children do their playthings, when their mirth is over, and, they have done with them.”

The author of the “Character of Richard St—le, Esq.,” was Dr. Wagstaffe, one of those careless wits[344] who lived to 432 repent a crazy life of wit, fancy, and hope, and an easy, indolent one, whose genial hours force up friends like hot-house plants, that bloom and flower in the spot where they are raised, but will not endure the change of place and season—this wit caught the tone of Swift, and because, as his editor tells us, “he had some friends in the ministry, and thought he could not take a better way to oblige them than by showing his dislike to a gentleman who had so much endeavoured to oppose them,” he sat down to write a libel with all the best humour imaginable; for, adds this editor, “he was so far from having any personal pique or enmity against Mr. Steele, that at the time of his writing he did not so much as know him, even by sight.” This principle of “having some friends in the ministry,” and not “any knowledge” of the character to be attacked, has proved a great source of invention to our political adventurers;—thus Dr. Wagstaffe was fully enabled to send down to us a character where the moral and literary qualities of a genius, to whom this country owes so much as the father of periodical papers, are immolated to his political purpose. This severe character passed through several editions. However the careless Steele might be willing to place the elaborate libel to the account of party writings, if he did not feel disturbed at reproaches and accusations, which are confidently urged, and at critical animadversions, to which the negligence of his style sometimes laid him too open, his insensibility would have betrayed a depravity in his morals and taste which never entered into his character.[345]


Steele was doomed even to lose the friendship of Addison amid political discords; but on that occasion Steele showed that his taste for literature could not be injured by political animosity. It was at the close of Addison’s life, and on occasion of the Peerage Bill, Steele published “The Plebeian,” a cry against enlarging the aristocracy. Addison replied with “The Old Whig,” Steele rejoined without alluding to the person of his opponent. But “The Old Whig” could not restrain his political feelings, and contemptuously described “little Dicky, whose trade it was to write pamphlets.” 434 Steele replied with his usual warmth; but indignant at the charge of “vassalage,” he says, “I will end this paper, by firing every free breast with that noble exhortation of the tragedian—

Remember, O my friends! the laws, the rights,
The generous plan of power deliver’d down
From age to age, &c.”

Thus delicately he detects the anonymous author, and thus energetically commends, while he reproves him!

Hooke (a Catholic), after he had written his “Roman History,” published “Observations on Vertot, Middleton, &c., on the Roman Senate,” in which he particularly treated Dr. Middleton with a disrespect for which the subject gave no occasion: this was attributed to the Doctor’s offensive letter from Rome. Spelman, in replying to this concealed motive of the Catholic, reprehends him with equal humour and bitterness for his desire of roasting a Protestant parson.

Our taste, rather than our passions, is here concerned; but the moral sense still more so. The malice of faction has long produced this literary calamity; yet great minds have not always degraded themselves; not always resisted the impulse of their finer feelings, by hardening them into insensibility, or goading them in the fury of a misplaced revenge. How delightful it is to observe Marvell, the Presbyterian and Republican wit, with that generous temper that instantly discovers the alliance of genius, warmly applauding the great work of Butler, which covered his own party with odium and ridicule. “He is one of an excellent wit,” says Marvell, “and whoever dislikes the choice of his subject, cannot but commend the performance.”[346]

Clarendon’s profound genius could not expand into the same liberal feelings. He highly commends May for his learning, his wit and language, and for his Supplement to Lucan, which he considered as “one of the best epic poems in the English language;” but this great spirit sadly winces in the soreness of his feelings when he alludes to May’s “History of the Parliament;” then we discover that this late “ingenious person” performed his part “so meanly, that he seems to have lost his wit when he left his honesty.” Behold the political criticism in literature! However we may incline to respect the feelings of Clarendon, this will not save his judgment nor 435 his candour. We read May now, as well as Clarendon; nor is the work of May that of a man who “had lost his wits,” nor is it “meanly performed.” Warburton, a keen critic of the writers of that unhappy and that glorious age for both parties, has pronounced this “History” to be “a just composition, according to the rules of history; written with much judgment, penetration, manliness, and spirit, and with a candour that will greatly increase your esteem, when you understand that he wrote by order of his masters the Parliament.”

Thus have authors and their works endured the violations of party feelings; a calamity in our national literature which has produced much false and unjust criticism.[347] The better spirit of the present times will maintain a safer and a more honourable principle,—the true objects of Literature, the cultivation of the intellectual faculties, stand entirely unconnected with Politics and Religion, let this be the imprescriptible right of an author. In our free country unhappily they have not been separated—they run together, and in the ocean of human opinions, the salt and bitterness of these mightier waves have infected the clear waters from the springs of the Muses. I once read of a certain river that ran through the sea without mixing with it, preserving its crystalline purity and all its sweetness during its course; so that it tasted the same at the Line as at the Poles. This stream indeed is only to be found in the geography of an old romance; literature should be this magical stream!




Why Hobbes disguised his sentiments—why his philosophy degraded him—of the sect of the Hobbists—his Leviathan; its principles adapted to existing circumstances—the author’s difficulties on its first appearance—the system originated in his fears, and was a contrivance to secure the peace of the nation—its duplicity and studied ambiguity illustrated by many facts—the advocate of the national religion—accused of atheism—Hobbe’s religion—his temper too often tried—attacked by opposite parties—Bishop Fell’s ungenerous conduct—makes Hobbes regret that juries do not consider the quarrels of authors of any moment—the mysterious panic which accompanied him through life—its probable cause—he pretends to recant his opinions—he is speculatively bold, and practically timorous—an extravagant specimen of the anti-social philosophy—the SELFISM of Hobbes—his high sense of his works, in regard to foreigners and posterity—his monstrous egotism—his devotion to his literary pursuits—the despotic principle of the Leviathan of an innocent tendency—the fate of systems of opinions.

The history of the philosopher of Malmesbury exhibits a large picture of literary controversy, where we may observe how a persecuting spirit in the times drives the greatest men to take refuge in the meanest arts of subterfuge. Compelled to disguise their sentiments, they will not, however, suppress them; and hence all their ambiguous proceedings, all that ridicule and irony, and even recantation, with which ingenious minds, when forced to their employ, have never failed to try the patience, or the sagacity, of intolerance.[348]


The character of Hobbes will, however, serve a higher moral design. The force of his intellect, the originality of his views, and the keenest sagacity of observation, place him in the first order of minds; but he has mortified, and then degraded man into a mere selfish animal. From a cause we shall discover, he never looked on human nature but in terror or in contempt. The inevitable consequence of that mode of thinking, or that system of philosophy, is to make the philosopher the abject creature he has himself imagined; and it is then he libels the species from his own individual experience.[349] 438 More generous tempers, men endowed with warmer imaginations, awake to sympathies of a higher nature, will indignantly reject the system, which has reduced the unlucky system-maker himself to such a pitiable condition.

Hobbes was one of those original thinkers who create a new era in the philosophical history of their nation, and perpetuate their name by leaving it to a sect.[350]


The eloquent and thinking Madame de Staël has asserted that “Hobbes was an Atheist and a Slave.” Yet I still think that Hobbes believed, and proved, the necessary existence of a Deity, and that he loved freedom, as every sage desires it. It is now time to offer an apology for one of those great men who are the contemporaries of all ages, and, by fervent inquiry, to dissipate that traditional cloud which hangs over one of “those monuments of the mind” which Genius has built with imperishable materials.

The author of the far-famed “Leviathan” is considered as a vehement advocate for absolute monarchy. This singular production may, however, be equally adapted for a republic; and the monstrous principle may be so innocent in its nature, as even to enter into our own constitution, which presumes to be neither.[351]


As “The Leviathan” produced the numerous controversies of Hobbes, a history of this great moral curiosity enters into our subject.

Hobbes, living in times of anarchy, perceived the necessity of re-establishing authority with more than its usual force. But how were the divided opinions of men to melt together, and where in the State was to be placed absolute power? for a remedy of less force he could not discover for that disordered state of society which he witnessed. Was the sovereign or the people to be invested with that mighty power which was to keep every other quiescent?—a topic which had been discussed for ages, and still must be, as the humours of men incline—was, I believe, a matter perfectly indifferent to our philosopher, provided that whatever might be the government, absolute power could somewhere be lodged in it, to force men to act in strict conformity. He discovers his perplexity in the dedication of his work. “In a way beset with those that contend on one side for too great liberty, on the other side for too much authority, ’tis hard to pass between the points of both unwounded.” It happened that our cynical Hobbes had no respect for his species; terrified at anarchy, he seems to have lost all fear when he flew to absolute power—a sovereign remedy unworthy of a great spirit, though convenient for a timid one like his own. Hobbes considered men merely as animals of prey, living in a state of perpetual hostility, and his solitary principle of action was self-preservation at any price.

He conjured up a political phantom, a favourite and fanciful notion, that haunted him through life. He imagined that the many might be more easily managed by making them up into an artificial One, and calling this wonderful political unity the Commonwealth, or the Civil Power, or the Sovereign, or by whatever name was found most pleasing; he personified it by the image of “Leviathan.”[352]


At first sight the ideal monster might pass for an innocent conceit; and there appears even consummate wisdom in erecting a colossal power for our common security; but Hobbes assumed that Authority was to be supported to its extreme pitch. Force with him appeared to constitute right, and unconditional submission then became a duty: these were consequences quite natural to one who at his first step degraded man by comparing him to a watch, and who would not have him go but with the same nicety of motion, wound up by a great key.

To be secure, by the system of Hobbes, we must at least lose the glory of our existence as intellectual beings. He would persuade us into the dead quietness of a commonwealth of puppets, while he was consigning into the grasp of his “Leviathan,” or sovereign power, the wire that was to communicate a mockery of vital motion—a principle of action without freedom. The system was equally desirable to the Protector Cromwell as to the regal Charles. A conspiracy against mankind could not alarm their governors: it is not therefore surprising that the usurper offered Hobbes the office of Secretary of State; and that he was afterwards pensioned by the monarch.

A philosophical system, moral or political, is often nothing more than a temporary expedient to turn aside the madness of the times by substituting what offers an appearance of relief; nor is it a little influenced by the immediate convenience of the philosopher himself; his personal character enters a good deal into the system. The object of Hobbes in 442 his “Leviathan” was always ambiguous, because it was, in truth, one of these systems of expediency, conveniently adapted to what has been termed of late “existing circumstances.” His sole aim was to keep all things in peace, by creating one mightiest power in the State, to suppress instantly all other powers that might rise in insurrection. In his times, the establishment of despotism was the only political restraint he could discover of sufficient force to chain man down, amid the turbulence of society; but this concealed end he is perpetually shifting and disguising; for the truth is, no man loved slavery less.[353]


The system of Hobbes could not be limited to politics: he knew that the safety of the people’s morals required an Established Religion. The alliance between Church and State had been so violently shaken, that it was necessary to cement them once more. As our philosopher had been terrified in his politics by the view of its contending factions, so, in religion, he experienced the same terror at the hereditary rancours of its multiplied sects. He could devise no other means than to attack the mysteries and dogmas of theologians, those after-inventions and corruptions of Christianity, by which the artifices of their chiefs had so long split them into perpetual 444 factions:[354] he therefore asserted that the religion of the people ought to exist, in strict conformity to the will of the State.[355]

When Hobbes wrote against mysteries, the mere polemics sent forth a cry of his impiety; the philosopher was branded with Atheism;—one of those artful calumnies, of which, after 445 a man has washed himself clean, the stain will be found to have dyed the skin.[356]


To me it appears that Hobbes, to put an end to these religious wars, which his age and country had witnessed, perpetually kindled by crazy fanatics and intolerant dogmatists, insisted that the crosier should be carried in the left hand of 447 his Leviathan, and the sword in his right.[357] He testified, as strongly as man could, by his public actions, that he was a Christian of the Church of England, “as by law established,” and no enemy to the episcopal order; but he dreaded the encroachments 448 of the Churchmen in his political system; jealous of that supremacy at which some of them aimed. Many enlightened bishops sided with the philosopher.[358] At a time when Milton sullenly withdrew from every public testimonial of divine worship, Hobbes, with more enlightened views, attended Church service, and strenuously supported an established religion; yet one is deemed a religious man, and the other an Atheist! Were the actions of men to be decisive of their characters, the reverse might be inferred.

The temper of our philosopher, so ill-adapted to contradiction, was too often tried; and if, as his adversary, Harrington, in the “Oceana,” says, “Truth be a spark whereunto objections are like bellows,” the mind of Hobbes, for half a century, was a very forge, where the hammer was always beating, and the flame was never allowed to be extinguished. Charles II. strikingly described his worrying assailants. “Hobbes,” said the king, “was a bear against whom the Church played their young dogs, in order to exercise them.”[359] A strange repartee has preserved the causticity of his wit. Dr. Eachard, perhaps one of the prototypes of Swift, wrote two admirable ludicrous dialogues, in ridicule of Hobbes’s “State of Nature.”[360] These 449 were much extolled, and kept up the laugh against the philosophic misanthropist: once when he was told that the clergy said that “Eachard had crucified Hobbes,” he bitterly retorted, “Why, then, don’t they fall down and worship me?”[361]

“The Leviathan” was ridiculed by the wits, declaimed against by the republicans, denounced by the monarchists, and menaced by the clergy. The commonwealth man, the dreamer of equality, Harrington, raged at the subtile advocate for despotic power; but the glittering bubble of his fanciful “Oceana” only broke on the mighty sides of the Leviathan, wasting its rainbow tints: the mitred Bramhall, at “The Catching of Leviathan, or the Great Whale,” flung his harpoon, demonstrating consequences from the principles of Hobbes, which he as eagerly denied. But our ambiguous philosopher had the hard fate to be attacked even by those who were labouring to the same end.[362] The literary wars of Hobbes were fierce and long; heroes he encountered, but heroes too were fighting by his side. Our chief himself wore a kind of magical armour; for, either he denied the consequences his adversaries deduced from his principles, or he surprised by new conclusions, which many could not discover in them; but by such means he had not only the art of infusing confidence among the Hobbists, but the greater one of dividing his adversaries, who often retreated, rather fatigued than victorious. Hobbes owed this partly to the happiness of a genius which excelled in controversy, but more, perhaps, to the advantage of the ground he occupied as a metaphysician: the usual darkness of that spot is favourable to those shiftings and turnings which the equivocal 450 possessor may practise with an unwary assailant. Far different was the fate of Hobbes in the open daylight of mathematics: there his hardy genius lost him, and his sophistry could spin no web; as we shall see in the memorable war of twenty years waged between Hobbes and Dr. Wallis. But the gall of controversy was sometimes tasted, and the flames of persecution flashed at times in the closet of our philosopher. The ungenerous attack of Bishop Fell, who, in the Latin translation of Wood’s “History of the University of Oxford,” had converted eulogium into the most virulent abuse,[363] without the participation of Wood, who resented it 451 with his honest warmth, was only an arrow snatched from a quiver which was every day emptying itself on the devoted head of our ambiguous philosopher. Fell only vindicated himself by a fresh invective on “the most vain and waspish animal of Malmesbury,” and Hobbes was too frightened to reply. This was the Fell whom it was so difficult to assign a reason for not liking:

I don’t like thee, Dr. Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell,
But I don’t like thee, Dr. Fell!

A curious incident in the history of the mind of this philosopher, was the mysterious panic which accompanied him to his latest day. It has not been denied that Hobbes was subject to occasional terrors: he dreaded to be left without company; and a particular instance is told, that on the Earl of Devonshire’s removal from Chatsworth, the philosopher, then in a dying state, insisted on being carried away, though on a feather-bed. Various motives have been suggested to account for this extraordinary terror. Some declared he was afraid of spirits; but he was too stout a materialist![364]—another, that he dreaded assassination; an ideal poniard indeed might scare even a materialist. But Bishop Atterbury, in a sermon on the Terrors of Conscience, illustrates their nature by the character of our philosopher. Hobbes is there accused of attempting to destroy the principles of religion against his own inward conviction: this would only prove the insanity of 452 Hobbes! The Bishop shows that “the disorders of conscience are not a continued, but an intermitting disease;” so that the patient may appear at intervals in seeming health and real ease, till the fits return: all this he applies to the case of our philosopher. In reasoning on human affairs, the shortest way will be to discover human motives. The spirit, or the assassin of Hobbes, arose from the bill brought into Parliament, when the nation was panic-struck on the fire of London, against Atheism and Profaneness; he had a notion that a writ de heretico comburendo was intended for him by Bishop Seth Ward, his quondam admirer.[365] His spirits would sink at those moments; for in the philosophy of Hobbes, the whole universe was concentrated in the small space of Self. There was no length he refused to go for what he calls “the natural right of preservation, which we all receive from the uncontrollable dictates of Necessity.” He exhausts his imagination in the forcible descriptions of his extinction: “the terrible enemy of nature, Death,” is always before him. The “inward horror” he felt of his extinction, Lord Clarendon thus alludes to: “If Mr. Hobbes and some other man were both condemned to death (which is the most formidable thing Mr. Hobbes can conceive)”—and Dr. Eachard rallies him on the infinite anxiety he bestowed on his body, and thinks that “he had better compound to be kicked and beaten twice a day, than to be so dismally tortured about an old rotten carcase.” Death was perhaps the only subject about which Hobbes would not dispute.

Such a materialist was then liable to terrors; and though, 453 when his works were burnt, the author had not a hair singed, the convulsion of the panic often produced, as Bishop Atterbury expresses it, “an intermitting disease.”

Persecution terrified Hobbes, and magnanimity and courage were no virtues in his philosophy. He went about hinting that he was not obstinate (that is, before the Bench of Bishops); that his opinions were mere conjectures, proposed as exercises for the powers of reasoning. He attempted (without meaning to be ludicrous) to make his opinions a distinct object from his person; and, for the good order of the latter, he appealed to the family chaplain for his attendance at divine service, from whence, however, he always departed at the sermon, insisting that the chaplain could not teach him anything. It was in one of these panics that he produced his “Historical Narrative of Heresy, and the Punishment thereof,” where, losing the dignity of the philosophic character, he creeps into a subterfuge with the subtilty of the lawyer; insisting that “The Leviathan,” being published at a time when there was no distinction of creeds in England (the Court of High Commission having been abolished in the troubles), that therefore none could be heretical.[366]


No man was more speculatively bold, and more practically timorous;[367] and two very contrary principles enabled him, through an extraordinary length of life, to deliver his opinions and still to save himself: these were his excessive vanity and his excessive timidity. The one inspired his hardy originality, and the other prompted him to protect himself by any means. His love of glory roused his vigorous intellect, while his fears shrunk him into his little self. Hobbes, engaged in the cause of truth, betrayed her dignity by his ambiguous and abject conduct: this was a consequence of his selfish philosophy; and this conduct has yielded no dubious triumph to the noble school which opposed his cynical principles.

A genius more luminous, sagacity more profound, and morals less tainted, were never more eminently combined than in this very man, who was so often reduced to the most abject state. But the anti-social philosophy of Hobbes terminated in preserving a pitiful state of existence. He who considered nothing more valuable than life, degraded himself by the meanest artifices of self-love,[368] and exulted in the most cynical 455 truths.[369] The philosophy of Hobbes, founded on fear and suspicion, and which, in human nature, could see nothing beyond himself, might make him a wary politician, but always an imperfect social being. We find, therefore, that the philosopher of Malmesbury adroitly retained a friend at court, to protect him at an extremity; but considering all men alike, as bargaining for themselves, his friends occasioned him as much uneasiness as his enemies. He lived in dread that the Earl of Devonshire, whose roof had ever been his protection, should at length give him up to the Parliament! There are no friendships among cynics!

To such a state of degradation had the selfish philosophy reduced one of the greatest geniuses; a philosophy true only for the wretched and the criminal.[370] But those who feel moving 456 within themselves the benevolent principle, and who delight in acts of social sympathy, are conscious of passions and motives, which the others have omitted in their system. And the truth is, these “unnatural philosophers,” as Lord Shaftesbury expressively terms them, are by no means the monsters they tell us they are: their practice is therefore usually in opposition to their principles. While Hobbes was for chaining down mankind as so many beasts of prey, he surely betrayed his social passion, in the benevolent warnings he was perpetually 457 giving them; and while he affected to hold his brothers in contempt, he was sacrificing laborious days, and his peace of mind, to acquire celebrity. Who loved glory more than this sublime cynic?—“Glory,” says our philosopher, “by those whom it displeaseth, is called Pride; by those whom it pleaseth, it is termed a just valuation of himself.”[371] Had Hobbes defined, as critically, the passion of self-love, without resolving all our sympathies into a single monstrous one, we might have been disciplined without being degraded.

Hobbes, indeed, had a full feeling of the magnitude of his labours, both for foreigners and posterity, as he has expressed it in his life. He disperses, in all his works, some Montaigne-like notices of himself, and they are eulogistic. He has not omitted any one of his virtues, nor even an apology for his deficiency in others. He notices with complacency how Charles II. had his portrait placed in the royal cabinet; how it was frequently asked for by his friends, in England and in France.[372] He has written his life several times, in verse and in prose; and never fails to throw into the eyes of his adversaries the reputation he gained abroad and at home.[373] He 458 delighted to show he was living, by annual publications; and exultingly exclaims, “That when he had silenced his adversaries, he published, in the eighty-seventh year of his life, the Odyssey of Homer, and the next year the Iliad, in English verse.”

His greatest imperfection was a monstrous egotism—the fate of those who concentrate all their observations in their own individual feelings. There are minds which may think too much, by conversing too little with books and men. Hobbes exulted he had read little; he had not more than half-a-dozen books about him; hence he always saw things in his own way, and doubtless this was the cause of his mania for disputation.

He wrote against dogmas with a spirit perfectly dogmatic. He liked conversation on the terms of his own political system, provided absolute authority was established, peevishly referring to his own works whenever contradicted; and his friends stipulated with strangers, that “they should not dispute with the old man.” But what are we to think of that pertinacity of opinion which he held even with one as great as himself? Selden has often quitted the room, or Hobbes been driven from it, in the fierceness of their battle.[374] Even to his latest day, the “war of words” delighted the man of confined reading. The literary duels between Hobbes and another hero celebrated in logomachy, the Catholic priest, Thomas White, have been recorded by Wood. They had both passed their eightieth year, and were fond of paying visits to one another: but the two literary Nestors never met to part in cool blood, “wrangling, squabbling, and scolding on philosophical matters,” as our blunt and lively historian has described.[375]


His little qualities were the errors of his own selfish philosophy; his great ones were those of nature. He was a votary to his studies:[376] he avoided marriage, to which he was inclined; and refused place and wealth, which he might have enjoyed, for literary leisure. He treated with philosophic pleasantry his real contempt of money.[377] His health and his studies were the sole objects of his thoughts; and notwithstanding 460 that panic which so often disturbed them, he wrote and published beyond his ninetieth year. He closes the metrical history of his life with more dignity than he did his life itself; for his mind seems always to have been greater than his actions. He appeals to his friends for the congruity of his life with his writings; for his devotion to justice; and for a generous work, which no miser could have planned; and closes thus:—

And now complete my four-and-eighty years,
Life’s lengthen’d plot is o’er, and the last scene appears.[378]

Of the works of Hobbes we must not conclude, as Hume tells us, that “they have fallen into neglect;” nor, in the style with which they were condemned at Oxford, that “they are pernicious and damnable.” The sanguine opinion of the author himself was, that the mighty “Leviathan” will stand for all ages, defended by its own strength; for the rule of justice, the reproof of the ambitious, the citadel of the Sovereign, and the peace of the people.[379] But the smaller 461 treatises of Hobbes are not less precious. Locke is the pupil of Hobbes, and it may often be doubtful whether the scholar has rivalled the nervous simplicity and the energetic originality of his master.

The genius of Hobbes was of the first order; his works abound with the most impressive truths, in all the simplicity of thought and language, yet he never elevates nor delights. Too faithful an observer of the miserable human nature before him, he submits to expedients; he acts on the defensive; and because he is in terror, he would consider security to be the happiness of man. In Religion he would stand by an established one; yet thus he deprives man of that moral freedom which God himself has surely allowed us. Locke has the glory of having first given distinct notions of the nature of toleration. In Politics his great principle is the establishment of Authority, or, as he terms it, an “entireness of sovereign power:” here he seems to have built his arguments with such eternal truths and with such a contriving wisdom as to adapt his system to all the changes of government. Hobbes found it necessary in his day to place this despotism in the hands of his colossal monarch; and were Hobbes now living, he would not relinquish the principle, though perhaps he might vary the application; for if Authority, strong as man can create it, is not suffered to exist in our free constitution, what will become of our freedom? Hobbes would now maintain his system by depositing his “entireness of sovereign power” in the Laws of his Country. So easily shifted is the vast political machine of the much abused “Leviathan!” The Citizen of Hobbes, like the Prince of Machiavel, is alike innocent, when the end of their authors is once detected, amid those ambiguous means by which the hard necessity of their times constrained their mighty genius to disguise itself.

It is, however, remarkable of Systems of Opinions, that the founder’s celebrity has usually outlived his sect’s. Why are systems, when once brought into practice, so often discovered to be fallacies? It seems to me the natural progress of 462 system-making. A genius of this order of invention long busied with profound observations and perpetual truths, would appropriate to himself this assemblage of his ideas, by stamping his individual mark on them; for this purpose he strikes out some mighty paradox, which gives an apparent connexion to them all: and to this paradox he forces all parts into subserviency. It is a minion of the fancy, which his secret pride supports, not always by the most scrupulous means. Hence the system itself, with all its novelty and singularity, turns out to be nothing more than an ingenious deception carried on for the glory of the inventor; and when his followers perceive they were the dupes of his ingenuity, they are apt, in quitting the system, to give up all; not aware that the parts are as true as the whole together is false; the sagacity of Genius collected the one, but its vanity formed the other!




Hobbes’s passion for the study of Mathematics began late in life—attempts to be an original discoverer—attacked by Wallis—various replies and rejoinders—nearly maddened by the opposition he encountered—after four years of truce, the war again renewed—character of Hobbes by Dr. Wallis, a specimen of invective and irony; serving as a remarkable instance how the greatest genius may come down to us disguised by the arts of an adversary—Hobbes’s noble defence of himself; of his own great reputation; of his politics; and of his religion—a literary stratagem of his—reluctantly gives up the contest, which lasted twenty years.

The Mathematical War between Hobbes and the celebrated Dr. Wallis is now to be opened. A series of battles, the renewed campaigns of more than twenty years, can be described by no term less eventful. Hobbes himself considered it as a war, and it was a war of idle ambition, in which he took too much delight. His “Amata Mathemata” became his pride, his pleasure, and at length his shame. He attempted to maintain his irruption into a province he ought never to have entered in defiance, by “a new method;” but having invaded the powerful natives, he seems to have almost repented the folly, and retires, leaving “the unmanageable brutes” to themselves:

Ergo meam statuo non ultra perdere opellam
 Indocile expectans discere posse pecus.

His language breathes war, while he sounds his retreat, and confesses his repulse. The Algebraists had all declared against the Invader.

Wallisius contra pugnat; victusque videbar
 Algebristarum Theiologumque scholis,
Et simul eductus Castris exercitus omnis
 Pugnæ securus Wallisianus ovat.


Pugna placet vertor—
Bella mea audisti—&c.


So that we have sufficient authority to consider this Literary Quarrel as a war, and a “Bellum Peloponnesiacum” too, for it lasted as long. Political, literary, and even personal feelings were called in to heat the temperate blood of two Mathematicians.

What means this tumult in a Vestal’s veins?

Hobbes was one of the many victims who lost themselves in squaring the circle, and doubling the cube. He applied, late in life, to mathematical studies, not so much, he says, to learn the subtile demonstrations of its figures, as to acquire those habits of close reasoning, so useful in the discovery of new truths, to prove or to refute. So justly he reasoned on mathematics; but so ill he practised the science, that it made him the most unreasonable being imaginable, for he resisted mathematical demonstration, itself![380]

His great and original character could not but prevail in everything he undertook; and his egotism tempted him to raise a name in the world of Science, as he had in that of Politics and Morals. With the ardour of a young mathematician, he exclaimed, “Eureka!” “I have found it.” The quadrature of the circle was indeed the common Dulcinea of the Quixotes of the time; but they had all been disenchanted. Hobbes alone clung to his ridiculous mistress. Repeatedly confuted, he was perpetually resisting old reasonings and producing new ones. Were only genius requisite for an able mathematician, Hobbes had been among the first; but patience and docility, not fire and fancy, are necessary. His reasonings were all paralogisms, and he had always much to say, from not understanding the subject of his inquiries.

When Hobbes published his “De Corpore Philosophico,” 1655, he there exulted that he had solved the great mystery. Dr. Wallis, the Savilian professor of mathematics at Oxford,[381] 465 with a deep aversion to Hobbes’s political and religious sentiments, as he understood them, rejoiced to see this famous combatant descending into his own arena. He certainly was eager to meet him single-handed; for he instantly confuted Hobbes, by his “Elenchus Geometriæ Hobbianæ.” Hobbes, who saw the newly-acquired province of his mathematics in danger, and which, like every new possession, seemed to involve his honour more than was necessary, called on all the world to be witnesses of this mighty conflict. He now published his work in English, with a sarcastic addition, in a magisterial tone, of “Six Lessons to the Professors of Mathematics in Oxford.” These were Seth Ward[382] and Wallis, both no friends to Hobbes, and who hungered after him as a relishing morsel. Wallis now replied in English, by “Due Correction for Mr. Hobbes, or School-discipline for not saying his Lessons Right,” 1656. That part of controversy which is usually the last had already taken place in their choice of phrases.[383]


In the following year the campaign was opened by Hobbes with “ΣΤΙΓΜΑΙ; or, marks of the absurd Geometry, rural Language, Scottish Church-politics, and Barbarisms, of John Wallis.” Quick was the routing of these fresh forces; not one was to escape alive! for Wallis now took the field with “Hobbiani Puncti dispunctio! or, the undoing of Mr. Hobbes’s Points; in answer to Mr. Hobbes’s ΣΤΙΓΜΑΙ, id est, Stigmata Hobbii.” Hobbes seems now to have been reduced to great straits; perhaps he wondered at the obstinacy of his adversary. It seems that Hobbes, who had been used to other studies, and who confesses all the algebraists were against him, could not conceive a point to exist without quantity; or a line could be drawn without latitude; or a superficies be without depth or thickness; but mathematicians conceive them without these qualities, when they exist abstractedly in the mind; though, when for the purposes of science they are produced to the senses, they necessarily have all the qualities. It was understanding these figures, in the vulgar way, which led Hobbes into a labyrinth of confusions and absurdities.[384] They appear to have nearly maddened the clear and vigorous intellect of our philosopher; for he exclaims, in one of these writings:—

“I alone am mad, or they are all out of their senses: so that no third opinion can be taken, unless any will say that we are all mad.”

Four years of truce were allowed to intervene between the next battle; when the irrefutable Hobbes, once more collecting his weak and his incoherent forces, arranged them, as well as he was able, into “Six Dialogues,” 1661. The utter annihilation he intended for his antagonist fell on himself. Wallis borrowing the character of “The Self-tormentor” from Terence, produced “Hobbius Heauton-timorumenos (Hobbes 467 the Self-tormentor); or, a Consideration of Mr. Hobbes’s Dialogues; addressed to Robert Boyle,” 1662.

This attack of Wallis is of a very opposite character to the arid discussion of abstract blunders in geometry. He who began with points, and doubling the cube, and squaring the circle, now assumes a loftier tone, and carrying his personal and moral feelings into a mere controversy between two idle mathematicians, he has formed a solemn invective, and edged it with irony. I hope the reader has experienced sufficient interest in the character of Hobbes to read the long, but curious extract I shall now transcribe, with that awe and reverence which the old man claims. It will show how even the greatest genius may be disguised, when viewed through the coloured medium of an adversary. One is, however, surprised to find such a passage in a mathematical work.

“He doth much improve; I mean he doth, proficere in pejus; more, indeed, than I could reasonably have expected he would have done;—insomuch, that I cannot but profess some relenting thoughts (though I had formerly occasion to use him somewhat coarsely), to see an old man thus fret and torment himself to no purpose. You, too, should pity your antagonist; not as if he did deserve it, but because he needs it; and as Chremes, in Terence, of his Senex, his self-tormenting Menedemus—

Cum videam miserum hunc tam excruciarier
Miseret me ejus. Quod potero adjutabo senem.

“Consider the temper of the man, to move your pity; a person extremely passionate and peevish, and wholly impatient of contradiction. A temper which, whether it be a greater fault or torment (to one who must so often meet with what he is so ill able to bear), is hard to say.

“And to this fretful humour you must add another as bad, which feeds it. You are therefore next to consider him as one highly opinionative and magisterial. Fanciful in his conceptions, and deeply enamoured with those phantasmes, without a rival. He doth not spare to profess, upon all occasions, how incomparably he thinks himself to have surpassed all, ancient, modern, schools, academies, persons, societies, philosophers, divines, heathens, Christians; how despicable he thinks all their writings in comparison of his; and what hopes he hath, that, by the sovereign command of some absolute prince, all other doctrines being exploded, his new dictates should be 468 peremptorily imposed, to be alone taught in all schools and pulpits, and universally submitted to. To recount all which he speaks of himself magnificently, and contemptuously of others, would fill a volume. Should some idle person read over all his books, and collecting together his arrogant and supercilious speeches, applauding himself, and despising all other men, set them forth in one synopsis, with this title, Hobbius de se—what a pretty piece of pageantry this would make!

“The admirable sweetness of your own nature has not given you the experience of such a temper: yet your contemplation must have needs discerned it, in those symptoms which you have seen it work in others, like the strange effervescence, ebullition, fumes, and fetors, which you have sometimes given yourself the content to observe, in some active acrimonious chymical spirits upon the injection of some contrariant salts strangely vexing, fretting, and tormenting itself, while it doth but administer sport to the unconcerned spectator. Which temper, being so eminent in the person we have to deal with, your generous nature, which cannot but pity affliction, how much soever deserved, must needs have some compassion for him: who, besides those exquisite torments wherewith he doth afflict himself, like that

——quo Siculi non invenere Tyranni
Tormentum majus—

is unavoidably exposed to those two great mischiefs; an incapacity to be taught what he doth not know, or to be advised when he thinks amiss; and moreover, to this inconvenience, that he must never hear his faults but from his adversaries; for those who are willing to be reputed friends must either not advertise what they see amiss, or incommode themselves.

“But, you will ask, what need he thus torment himself? What need of pity? If he have hopes to be admitted the sole dictator in philosophy, civil and natural, in schools and pulpits, and to be owned as the only magister sententiarum, what would he have more?

“True, if he have; but what if he have not? That he had some hopes of such an honour, he hath not been sparing to let us know, and was providing against the envy that might attend it (nec deprecabor invidiam, sed augendo, ulciscar, was his resolution); but I doubt these hopes are at an end. He did not find (as he expected) that the fairies and hobgoblins 469 (for such he reputes all that went before him) did vanish presently, upon the first appearance of his sunshine: and, which is worse, while he was on the one side guarding himself against envy, he is, on the other side, unhappily surprised by a worse enemy, called contempt, and with which he is less able to grapple.

“I forbear to mention (lest I might seem to reproach that age which I reverence) the disadvantages which he may sustain by his old age. ’Tis possible that time and age, in a person somewhat morose, may have riveted faster that preconceived opinion of his own worth and excellency beyond others. ’Tis possible, also, that he may have forgotten much of what once he knew. He may, perhaps, be sometimes more secure than safe; while trusting to what he thinks a firm foundation, his footing fails him; nor always so vigilant or quicksighted as to discern the incoherence or inconsequence of his own discourses; unwilling, notwithstanding, to make use of the eyes of other men, lest he should seem thereby to disparage his own; but certainly (though his will may be as good as ever) his parts are less vegete and nimble, as to invention at least, than in his younger days.

“While he had endeavoured only to raise an expectation, or put the world in hopes of what great things he had in hand (to render all philosophy as clear and certain as Euclid’s Elements), if he had then died, it might, perhaps, have been thought by some that the world had been deprived of a great philosopher, and learning sustained an invaluable loss, by the abortion of so desired a piece. But since that Partus Montis is come to light, and found to be no more than what little animals have brought forth, and that deformed enough and unamiable, he might have sooner gone off the stage with more advantage than now he is like to do; such is the misfortune for a man to outlive his reputation!

“By this time, perhaps, you may see cause to pity him while you see him falling. But if you consider him tumbling headlong from so great a height, ’twill make some addition to that compassion which doth already begin to work. You are therefore next to consider that when, upon the account of geometry, he was unsafely mounted to that height of vanity, he did unhappily fall into the hands of two mathematicians, who have used him so unmercifully as would have put a person of greater patience into passion, and meeting with such a temper, have so discomposed him that he hath ever since 470 talked idly: and to augment the grief, these mathematicians were both divines—he had rather have fallen by any other hand. These mathematical divines (a term which he had thought incomponible) began to unravel the wrong end; and while he thought they should have first untiled the roof, and by degrees gone downward, they strike at the foundation, and make the building tumble all at once; and that in such confusion, that by dashing one part against another, they make each help to destroy the whole. They first fall upon his last reserve, and rout his mathematics beyond a possibility of rallying; and by firing his magazine upon the first assault, make his own weapons fight against him. Not contented herewith, they enter the breach, and pursue the rout through his Logics, Physics, Metaphysics, Theology, where they find all in confusion.”

This invective and irony from this celebrated mathematician, so much out of the path of his habitual studies, might have proved a tremendous blow; but the genius of Hobbes was invulnerable to mere human opposition, unless accompanied by the supernatural terrors of penal fires or perpetual dungeons. Our hero received the whole discharge of this battering train, and stood invulnerable, while he returned the fire in “Considerations upon the Reputation, Loyalty, Manners, and Religion of Thomas Hobbes, of Malmesbury, written by way of Letter to a learned person, Dr. Wallis,” 1662.

It is an extraordinary production. His lofty indignation retorts on the feeble irony of his antagonist with keen and caustic accusations; and the green strength of youth was still seen in the old man whose head was covered with snows.

From this spirited apology for himself I shall give some passages. Hobbes thus replied to Dr. Wallis, who affected to consider the old man as a fit object for commiseration.

“You would make him contemptible, and move Mr. Boyle to pity him. This is a way of railing too much beaten to be thought witty: besides, ’tis no argument of your contempt to spend upon him so many angry lines, as would have furnished you with a dozen of sermons. If you had in good earnest despised him, you would have let him alone, as he does Dr. Ward, Mr. Baxter, Pike, and others, that have reviled him as you do. As for his reputation beyond the seas, it fades not yet; and because, perhaps, you have no means to know it, I will cite you a passage of an epistle written by a learned Frenchman 471 to an eminent person in France, in a volume of epistles.” Hobbes quotes the passage at length, in which his name appears joined with Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, and Gassendi.

In reply to Wallis’ sarcastic suggestion that an idle person should collect together Hobbes’s arrogant and supercilious speeches applauding himself, under one title, Hobbius de se, he says—

“Let your idle person do it; Mr. Hobbes shall acknowledge them under his hand, and be commended for it, and you scorned. A certain Roman senator having propounded something in the assembly of the people, which they, misliking, made a noise at, boldly bade them hold their peace, and told them he knew better what was good for the commonwealth than all they; and his words are transmitted to us as an argument of his virtue; so much do truth and vanity alter the complexion of self-praise. You can have very little skill in morality, that cannot see the justice of commending a man’s self, as well as of anything else, in his own defence; and it was want of prudence in you to constrain him to a thing that would so much displease you.

“When you make his age a reproach to him, and show no cause that might impair the faculties of his mind, but only age, I admire how you saw not that you reproached all old men in the world as much as him, and warranted all young men, at a certain time which they themselves shall define, to call you fool! Your dislike of old age you have also otherwise sufficiently signified, in venturing so fairly as you have done to escape it. But that is no great matter to one that hath so many marks upon him of much greater reproaches. By Mr. Hobbes’s calculation, that derives prudence from experience, and experience from age, you are a very young man; but, by your own reckoning, you are older already than Methuselah.

“During the late trouble, who made both Oliver and the people mad but the preachers of your principles? But besides the wickedness, see the folly of it. You thought to make them mad, but just to such a degree as should serve your own turn; that is to say, mad, and yet just as wise as yourselves. Were you not very imprudent to think to govern madness?”—p. 15.

“The king was hunted as a partridge in the mountains, and though the hounds have been hanged, yet the hunters were as guilty as they, and deserved no less punishment. 472 And the decypherers (Wallis had decyphered the royal letters),[385] and all that blew the horn, are to be reckoned among the hunters. Perhaps you would not have had the prey killed, but rather have kept it tame. And yet who can tell? I have read of few kings deprived of their power by their own subjects that have lived any long time after it, for reasons that every man is able to conjecture.”

He closes with a very odd image of the most cynical contempt:—

“Mr. Hobbes has been always far from provoking any man, though, when he is provoked, you find his pen as sharp as yours. All you have said is error and railing; that is, stinking wind, such as a jade lets fly when he is too hard girt upon a full belly. I have done. I have considered you now, but will not again, whatsoever preferment any of your friends shall procure you.”

These were the pitched battles; but many skirmishes occasionally took place. Hobbes was even driven to a ruse de guerre. When he found his mathematical character in the utmost peril, there appeared a pamphlet, entitled “Lux Mathematica, &c., or, Mathematical Light struck out from the clashings between Dr. John Wallis, Professor of Geometry in the celebrated University of Oxford (celeberrima Academia), and Thomas Hobbes, of Malmesbury; augmented with many and shining rays of the Author, R. R.” 1672.

Here the victories of Hobbes are trumpeted forth, but the fact is, that R. R. should have been T. H. It was Hobbes’s own composition! R. R. stood for Roseti Repertor, that is, the Finder of the Rosary, one of the titles of Hobbes’s mathematical discoveries. Wallis asserts that this R. R. may still serve, for it may answer his own book, “Roseti Refutator, or, the Refuter of the Rosary.”

Poor Hobbes gave up the contest reluctantly; if, indeed, the controversy may not be said to have lasted all his life. He acknowledges he was writing to no purpose; and that the medicine was obliged to yield to the disease.

Sed nil profeci, magnis authoribus Error
 Fultus erat, cessit sic Medicina malo.


He seems to have gone down to the grave, in spite of all the reasonings of the geometricians on this side of it, with a firm conviction that its superficies had both depth and thickness.[386] Such were the fruits of a great genius, entering into a province out of his own territories; and, though a most energetic reasoner, so little skilful in these new studies, that he could never know when he was confuted and refuted.[387]



Ben Jonson appears to have carried his military spirit into the literary republic—his gross convivialities, with anecdotes of the prevalent taste in that age for drinking-bouts—his “Poetaster” a sort of Dunciad, besides a personal attack on the frequenters of the theatres, with anecdotes—his Apologetical Dialogue, which was not allowed to be repeated—characters of Decker and of Marston—Decker’s Satiromastix, a parody on Jonson’s “Poetaster”—Ben exhibited under the character of “Horace Junior”—specimens of that literary satire; its dignified remonstrance, and the honourable applause bestowed on the great bard—some foibles in the literary habits of Ben, alluded to by Decker—Jonson’s noble reply to his detractors and rivals.

This quarrel is a splendid instance how genius of the first order, lavishing its satirical powers on a number of contemporaries, may discover, among the crowd, some individual who may return with a right aim the weapon he has himself used, and who will not want for encouragement to attack the common assailant: the greater genius is thus mortified by a victory conceded to the inferior, which he himself had taught the meaner one to obtain over him.

Jonson, in his earliest productions, “Every Man in his Humour,” and “Every Man out of his Humour,” usurped that dictatorship, in the Literary Republic, which he so sturdily and invariably maintained, though long and hardily disputed. No bard has more courageously foretold that posterity would be interested in his labours; and often with very dignified feelings he casts this declaration into the teeth of his adversaries: but a bitter contempt for his brothers and his contemporaries was not less vehement than his affections for those who crowded under his wing. To his “sons” and his admirers he was warmly attached, and no poet has left behind him, in MS., so many testimonies of personal fondness, in the inscriptions and addresses, in the copies of his works which he presented to friends: of these I have seen more than one fervent and impressive.

Drummond of Hawthornden, who perhaps carelessly and imperfectly minuted down the heads of their literary conference 475 on the chief authors of the age, exposes the severity of criticism which Ben exercised on some spirits as noble as his own. The genius of Jonson was rough, hardy, and invincible, of which the frequent excess degenerated into ferocity; and by some traditional tales, this ferocity was still inflamed by large potations: for Drummond informs us, “Drink was the element in which he lived.”[388] Old Ben had given, on two 476 occasions, some remarkable proofs of his personal intrepidity. When a soldier, in the face of both armies, he had fought single-handed with his antagonist, had slain him, and carried off his arms as trophies. Another time he killed his man in a duel. Jonson appears to have carried the same military spirit into the Literary Republic.

Such a genius would become more tyrannical by success, and naturally provoked opposition, from the proneness of mankind to mortify usurped greatness, when they can securely do it. The man who hissed the poet’s play had no idea that he might himself become one of the dramatic personages. Ben then produced his “Poetaster,” which has been called the Dunciad 477 of those times; but it is a Dunciad without notes. The personages themselves are now only known by their general resemblance to nature, with the exception of two characters, those of Crispinus and Demetrius.[389]

In “The Poetaster,” Ben, with flames too long smothered, burst over the heads of all rivals and detractors. His enemies seem to have been among all classes; personages recognised 478 on the scene as soon as viewed; poetical, military, legal, and histrionic. It raised a host in arms. Jonson wrote an apologetical epilogue, breathing a firm spirit, worthy of himself; but its dignity was too haughty to be endured by contemporaries, whom genius must soothe by equality. This apologetical dialogue was never allowed to be repeated; now we may do it with pleasure. Writings, like pictures, require a particular light and distance to be correctly judged and inspected, without any personal inconvenience.

One of the dramatic personages in this epilogue inquires

I never saw the play breed all this tumult.
What was there in it could so deeply offend,
And stir so many hornets?

The author replies:

——————I never writ that piece
More innocent, or empty of offence;
Some salt it had, but neither tooth nor gall.
——————Why, they say you tax’d
The law and lawyers, captains, and the players,
By their particular names.
——————It is not so:
I used no names. My books have still been taught
To spare the persons, and to speak the vices.

And he proceeds to tell us, that to obviate this accusation he had placed his scenes in the age of Augustus.

To show that Virgil, Horace, and the rest
Of those great master-spirits, did not want
Detractors then, or practisers against them:
And by this line, although no parallel,
I hoped at last they would sit down and blush.

But instead of their “sitting down and blushing,” we find—

That they fly buzzing round about my nostrils;
And, like so many screaming grasshoppers
Held by the wings, fill every ear with noise.

Names were certainly not necessary to portraits, where every day the originals were standing by their side. This 479 is the studied pleading of a poet, who knows he is concealing the truth.

There is a passage in the play itself where Jonson gives the true cause of “the tumult” raised against him. Picturing himself under the character of his favourite Horace, he makes the enemies of Horace thus describe him, still, however, preserving the high tone of poetical superiority.

“Alas, sir, Horace is a mere sponge. Nothing but humours and observations he goes up and down sucking from every society, and when he comes home squeezes himself dry again. He will pen all he knows. He will sooner lose his best friend than his least jest. What he once drops upon paper against a man, lives eternally to upbraid him.”

Such is the true picture of a town-wit’s life! The age of Augustus was much less present to Jonson than his own; and Ovid, Tibullus, and Horace were not the personages he cared so much about, as “that society in which,” it was said, “he went up and down sucking in and squeezing himself dry:” the formal lawyers, who were cold to his genius; the sharking captains, who would not draw to save their own swords, and would cheat “their friend, or their friend’s friend,” while they would bully down Ben’s genius; and the little sycophant histrionic, “the twopenny[390] tear-mouth, copper-laced scoundrel, stiff-toe, who used to travel with pumps full of gravel after a blind jade and a hamper, and stalk upon boards and barrel-heads to an old crackt trumpet;” and who all now made a party with some rival of Jonson.

All these personages will account for “the tumult” which excites the innocent astonishment of our author. These only resisted him by “filling every ear with noise.” But one of the “screaming grasshoppers held by the wings,” boldly turned on the holder with a scorpion’s bite; and Decker, who had been lashed in “The Poetaster,” produced his “Satiromastix, or the untrussing of the humorous Poet.” Decker was a subordinate author, indeed; but, what must have been very galling to Jonson, who was the aggressor, indignation proved such an inspirer, that Decker seemed to have caught some portion of Jonson’s own genius, who had the art of making even Decker popular; while he discovered that his own laurel-wreath had been dexterously changed by the “Satiromastix” into a garland of “stinging nettles.”


In “The Poetaster,” Crispinus is the picture of one of those impertinent fellows who resolve to become poets, having an equal aptitude to become anything that is in fashionable request. When Hermogenes, the finest singer in Rome, refused to sing, Crispinus gladly seizes the occasion, and whispers the lady near him—“Entreat the ladies to entreat me to sing, I beseech you.” This character is marked by a ludicrous peculiarity which, turning on an individual characteristic, must have assisted the audience in the true application. Probably Decker had some remarkable head of hair,[391] and that his locks hung not like “the curls of Hyperion;” for the jeweller’s wife admiring among the company the persons of Ovid, Tibullus, &c., Crispinus acquaints her that they were poets, and, since she admires them, promises to become a poet himself. The simple lady further inquires, “if, when he is a poet, his looks will change? and particularly if his hair will change, and be like those gentlemen’s?” “A man,” observes Crispinus, “may be a poet, and yet not change his hair.” “Well!” exclaims the simple jeweller’s wife, “we shall see your cunning; yet if you can change your hair, I pray do it.”

In two elaborate scenes, poor Decker stands for a full-length. Resolved to be a poet, he haunts the company of Horace: he meets him in the street, and discovers all the variety of his nothingness: he is a student, a stoic, an architect: everything by turns, “and nothing long.” Horace impatiently attempts to escape from him, but Crispinus foils him at all points. This affectionate admirer is even willing to go over the world with him. He proposes an ingenious project, if Horace will introduce him to Mæcenas. Crispinus offers to become “his assistant,” assuring him that “he would be content with the next place, not envying thy reputation with thy patron;” and he thinks that Horace and himself “would soon lift out of favour Virgil, Varius, and the best of them, and enjoy them wholly to ourselves.” The restlessness of Horace to extricate himself from this “Hydra of Discourse,” the passing friends whom he calls on to assist him, and the glue-like pertinacity of Crispinus, are richly coloured.

A ludicrous and exquisitely satirical scene occurs at the trial 481 of Crispinus and his colleagues. Jonson has here introduced an invention, which a more recent satirist so happily applied to our modern Lexiphanes, Dr. Johnson, for his immeasurable polysyllables. Horace is allowed by Augustus to make Crispinus swallow a certain pill; the light vomit discharges a great quantity of hard matter, to clear

His brain and stomach of their tumorous heats.

These consist of certain affectations in style, and adulteration of words, which offended the Horatian taste: “the basin” is called quickly for and Crispinus gets rid easily of some, but others were of more difficult passage:—

‘Magnificate!’ that came up somewhat hard!

Crispinus. ‘O barmy froth——’

Augustus. What’s that?

Crispinus. ‘Inflate!—Turgidous!—and Ventositous’—

Horace. ‘Barmy froth, inflate, turgidous, and ventosity are come up.’

Tibullus. O terrible windy words!

Gallus. A sign of a windy brain.

But all was not yet over: “Prorumpt” made a terrible rumbling, as if his spirit was to have gone with it; and there were others which required all the kind assistance of the Horatian “light vomit.” This satirical scene closes with some literary admonitions from the grave Virgil, who details to Crispinus the wholesome diet to be observed after his surfeits, which have filled

His blood and brain thus full of crudities.

Virgil’s counsels to the vicious neologist, who debases the purity of English diction by affecting new words or phrases, may too frequently be applied.

You must not hunt for wild outlandish terms
To stuff out a peculiar dialect;
But let your matter run before your words.
And if at any time you chance to meet
Some Gallo-Belgick phrase, you shall not straight
Rack your poor verse to give it entertainment,
But let it pass; and do not think yourself
Much damnified, if you do leave it out
When not the sense could well receive it.

Virgil adds something which breathes all the haughty spirit of Ben: he commands Crispinus:


 ——————Henceforth, learn
To bear yourself more humbly, nor to swell
Or breathe your insolent and idle spite
On him whose laughter can your worst affright:

and dismisses him

To some dark place, removed from company;
He will talk idly else after his physic.

“The Satiromastix” may be considered as a parody on “The Poetaster.” Jonson, with classical taste, had raised his scene in the court of Augustus: Decker, with great unhappiness, places it in that of William Rufus. The interest of the piece arises from the dexterity with which Decker has accommodated those very characters which Jonson has satirised in his “Poetaster.” This gratified those who came every day to the theatre, delighted to take this mimetic revenge on the arch bard.

In Decker’s prefatory address “To the World,” he observes, “Horace haled his Poetasters to the bar;[392] the Poetasters untrussed Horace: Horace made himself believe that his Burgonian wit[393] might desperately challenge all comers, and that none durst take up the foils against him.” But Decker is the Earl Rivers! He had been blamed for the personal attacks on Jonson; for “whipping his fortunes and condition of life; where the more noble reprehension had been of his mind’s deformity:” but for this he retorts on Ben. Some censured Decker for barrenness of invention, in bringing on those characters in his own play whom Jonson had stigmatised; but “it was not improper,” he says, “to set the same dog upon Horace, whom Horace had set to worry others.” Decker warmly concludes with defying the Jonsonians.

“Let that mad dog Detraction bite till his teeth be worn to the stumps; Envy, feed thy snakes so fat with poison till they burst; World, let all thy adders shoot out their Hydra-headed forked stings! I thank thee, thou true Venusian Horace, for these good words thou givest me. Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo.

The whole address is spirited. Decker was a very popular 483 writer, whose numerous tracts exhibit to posterity a more detailed narrative of the manners of the town in the Elizabethan age than is elsewhere to be found.

In Decker’s Satiromastix, Horace junior is first exhibited in his study, rehearsing to himself an ode: suddenly the Pindaric rapture is interrupted by the want of a rhyme; this is satirically applied to an unlucky line of Ben’s own. One of his “sons,” Asinius Bubo, who is blindly worshipping his great idol, or “his Ningle,” as he calls him, amid his admiration of Horace, perpetually breaks out into digressive accounts of what sort of a man his friends take him to be. For one, Horace in wrath prepares an epigram: and for Crispinus and Fannius, brother bards, who threaten “they’ll bring your life and death on the stage, as a bricklayer in a play,” he says, “I can bring a prepared troop of gallants, who, for my sake, shall distaste every unsalted line in their fly-blown comedies.” “Ay,” replies Asinius, “and all men of my rank!” Crispinus, Horace calls “a light voluptuous reveller,” and Fannius “the slightest cobweb-lawn piece of a poet.” Both enter, and Horace receives them with all friendship.

The scene is here conducted not without skill. Horace complains that

 ————————When I dip my pen
In distill’d roses, and do strive to drain
Out of mine ink all gall—
Mine enemies, with sharp and searching eyes,
Look through and through me.
And when my lines are measured out as straight
As even parallels, ’tis strange, that still,
Still some imagine that they’re drawn awry.
The error is not mine, but in their eye,
That cannot take proportions.

To the querulous satirist, Crispinus replies with dignified gravity—

Horace! to stand within the shot of galling tongues
Proves not your guilt; for, could we write on paper
Made of these turning leaves of heaven, the clouds,
Or speak with angels’ tongues, yet wise men know
That some would shake the head, though saints should sing;
Some snakes must hiss, because they’re born with stings.
 ——————Be not you grieved
If that which you mould fair, upright, and smooth,
Be screw’d awry, made crooked, lame, and vile,
By racking comments.— 484
So to be bit it rankles not, for Innocence
May with a feather brush off the foul wrong.
But when your dastard wit will strike at men
In corners, and in riddles fold the vices
Of your best friends
, you must not take to heart
If they take off all gilding from their pills,
And only offer you the bitter core.—

At this the galled Horace winces. Crispinus continues, that it is in vain Horace swears, that

———————He puts on
The office of an executioner,
Only to strike off the swoln head of sin,
Where’er you find it standing. Say you swear,
And make damnation, parcel of your oath,
That when your lashing jests make all men bleed,
Yet you whip none—court, city, country, friends,
Foes, all must smart alike.—

Fannius, too, joins, and shows Ben the absurd oaths he takes, when he swears to all parties, that he does not mean them. How, then, of five hundred and four, five hundred

Should all point with their fingers in one instant,
At one and the same man?

Horace is awkwardly placed between these two friendly remonstrants, to whom he promises perpetual love.

Captain Tucca, a dramatic personage in Jonson’s Poetaster, and a copy of his own Bobadil, whose original the poet had found at “Powles,” the fashionable lounge of that day, is here continued with the same spirit; and as that character permitted from the extravagance of its ribaldry, it is now made the vehicle for those more personal retorts, exhibiting the secret history of Ben, which perhaps twitted the great bard more than the keenest wit, or the most solemn admonition which Decker could ever attain. Jonson had cruelly touched on Decker being out at elbows, and made himself too merry with the histrionic tribe: he, who was himself a poet, and had been a Thespian! The blustering captain thus attacks the great wit:—“Do’st stare, my Saracen’s head at Newgate? I’ll march through thy Dunkirk guts, for shooting jests at me.” He insists that as Horace, “that sly knave, whose shoulders were once seen lapp’d in a player’s old cast cloak,” and who had reflected on Crispinus’s satin doublet being ravelled out; that he should wear one of Crispinus’s 485 “old cast sattin suits,” and that Fannius should write a couple of scenes for his own “strong garlic comedies,” and Horace should swear that they were his own—he would easily bear “the guilt of conscience.” “Thy Muse is but a hagler, and wears clothes upon best be trust (a humorous Deckerian phrase)—thou’rt great in somebody’s books for this!” Did it become Jonson to gibe at the histrionic tribe, who is himself accused of “treading the stage, as if he were treading mortar.”[394] He once put up—“a supplication to be a poor journeyman player, and hadst been still so, but that thou couldst not set a good face upon’t. Thou hast forget how thou ambled’st in leather-pilch, by a play-waggon in the highway; and took’st mad Jeronimo’s part, to get service among the mimics,” &c.

Ben’s person was, indeed, not gracious in the playfulness of love or fancy. A female, here, thus delineates Ben:—

“That same Horace has the most ungodly face, by my fan; it looks for all the world like a rotten russet-apple, when ’tis bruised. It’s better than a spoonful of cinnamon-water next my heart, for me to hear him speak; he sounds it so i’ th’ nose, and talks and rants like the poor fellows under Ludgate—to see his face make faces, when he reads his songs and sonnets.”

Again, we have Ben’s face compared with that of his favourite, Horace’s—“You staring Leviathan! look on the sweet visage of Horace; look, parboil’d face, look—he has not his face punchtfull of eyelet-holes, like the cover of a warming-pan.”

Joseph Warton has oddly remarked that most of our poets were handsome men. Jonson, however, was not poetical on that score; though his bust is said to resemble Menander’s.

Such are some of the personalities with which Decker recriminated.

Horace is thrown into many ludicrous situations. He is told that “admonition is good meat.” Various persons bring forward their accusations; and Horace replies that they envy him,

Because I hold more worthy company.

The greatness of Ben’s genius is by no means denied by 486 his rivals; and Decker makes Fannius reply, with noble feelings, and in an elevated strain of poetry:—

Good Horace, no! my cheeks do blush for thine,
As often as thou speakst so; where one true
And nobly virtuous spirit, for thy best part
Loves thee, I wish one, ten; even from my heart!
I make account, I put up as deep share
In any good man’s love, which thy worth earns,
As thou thyself; we envy not to see
Thy friends with bays to crown thy poesy.
No, here the gall lies;—We, that know what stuff
Thy very heart is made of, know the stalk
On which thy learning grows, and can give life
To thy, once dying, baseness; yet must we
Dance anticke on your paper—.
But were thy warp’d soul put in a new mould,
I’d wear thee as a jewel set in gold.

To which one adds, that “jewels, master Horace, must be hanged, you know.” This “Whip of Men,” with Asinius his admirer, are brought to court, transformed into satyrs, and bound together: “not lawrefied, but nettle-fied;” crowned with a wreath of nettles.

With stinging-nettles crown his stinging wit.

Horace is called on to swear, after Asinius had sworn to give up his “Ningle.”

“Now, master Horace, you must be a more horrible swearer; for your oath must be, like your wits, of many colours; and like a broker’s book, of many parcels.”

Horace offers to swear till his hairs stand up on end, to be rid of this sting. “Oh, this sting!” alluding to the nettles. “’Tis not your sting of conscience, is it?” asks one. In the inventory of his oaths, there is poignant satire, with strong humour; and it probably exhibits some foibles in the literary habits of our bard.

He swears “Not to hang himself, even if he thought any man could write plays as well as himself; not to bombast out a new play with the old linings of jests stolen from the Temple’s Revels; not to sit in a gallery, when your comedies have entered their actions, and there make vile and bad faces at every line, to make men have an eye to you, and to make players afraid; not to venture on the stage, when your play is ended, and exchange courtesies and compliments with gallants to make all the house rise and cry—‘That’s Horace 487 that’s he that pens and purges humours.’ When you bid all your friends to the marriage of a poor couple, that is to say, your Wits and Necessities—alias, a poet’s Whitsun-ale—you shall swear that, within three days after, you shall not abroad, in bookbinders’ shops, brag that your viceroys, or tributary-kings, have done homage to you, or paid quarterage. Moreover, when a knight gives you his passport to travel in and out to his company, and gives you money for God’s sake—you will swear not to make scald and wry-mouthed jests upon his knighthood. When your plays are misliked at court, you shall not cry Mew! like a puss-cat, and say, you are glad you write out of the courtier’s element; and in brief, when you sup in taverns, amongst your betters, you shall swear not to dip your manners in too much sauce; nor, at table, to fling epigrams or play-speeches about you.”

The king observes, that

——————————He whose pen
Draws both corrupt and clear blood from all men
Careless what vein he pricks; let him not rave
When his own sides are struck; blows, blows do crave.

Such were the bitter apples which Jonson, still in his youth, plucked from the tree of his broad satire, that branched over all ranks in society. That even his intrepidity and hardiness felt the incessant attacks he had raised about him, appears from the close of the Apologetical Epilogueto “The Poetaster;” where, though he replies with all the consciousness of genius, and all its haughtiness, he closes with a determination to give over the composition of comedies! This, however, like all the vows of a poet, was soon broken; and his masterpieces were subsequently produced.

Friend. Will you not answer then the libels?

Author. No.

Friend. Nor the Untrussers.

Author. Neither.

Friend. You are undone, then.

Author. With whom?

Friend. The world.

Author. The bawd!

Friend. It will be taken to be stupidity or tameness in you.

Author. But they that have incensed me, can in soul
Acquit me of that guilt. They know I dare
To spurn or baffle them; or squirt their eyes
With ink or urine: or I could do worse,
Arm’d with Archilochus’ fury, write iambicks,
Would make the desperate lashers hang themselves.—


His Friend tells him that he is accused that “all his writing is mere railing;” which Jonson nobly compares to “the salt in the old comedy;” that they say, that he is slow, and “scarce brings forth a play a year.”

Author. ——————’Tis true,
I would they could not say that I did that.

He is angry that their

——————Base and beggarly conceits
Should carry it, by the multitude of voices,
Against the most abstracted work, opposed
To the stufft nostrils of the drunken rout.—

And then exclaims with admirable enthusiasm—

O this would make a learn’d and liberal soul
To rive his stained quill up to the back,
And damn his long-watch’d labours to the fire;
Things, that were born, when none but the still night,
And the dumb candle, saw his pinching throes.

And again, alluding to these mimics—

This ’tis that strikes me silent, seals my lips,
And apts me rather to sleep out my time,
Than I would waste it in contemned strifes
With these vile Ibides, these unclean birds,
That make their mouths their clysters, and still purge
From their hot entrails.[395] But I leave the monsters
To their own fate. And since the Comic Muse
Hath proved so ominous to me, I will try
If Tragedy have a more kind aspect.
Leave me! There’s something come into my thought
That must and shall be sung, high and aloof,
Safe from the wolf’s black jaw, and the dull ass’s hoof.

Friend. I reverence these raptures, and obey them.


Such was the noble strain in which Jonson replied to his detractors in the town and to his rivals about him. Yet this poem, composed with all the dignity and force of the bard, was not suffered to be repeated. It was stopped by authority. But Jonson, in preserving it in his works, sends it “TO POSTERITY, that it may make a difference between their manners that provoked me then, and mine that neglected them ever.”



Literary, like political history, is interested in the cause of an obscure individual, when deprived of his just rights—character of Camden—Brooke’s “Discovery of Errors” in the “Britannia”—his work disturbed in the printing—afterwards enlarged, but never suffered to be published—whether Brooke’s motive was personal rancour!—the persecuted author becomes vindictive—his keen reply to Camden—Camden’s beautiful picture of calumny—Brooke furnishes a humorous companion-piece—Camden’s want of magnanimity and justice—when great authors are allowed to suppress the works of their adversary, the public receives the injury and the insult.

In the literary as well as the political commonwealth, the cause of an obscure individual violently deprived of his just rights is a common one. We protest against the power of genius itself, when it strangles rather than wrestles with its adversary, or combats in mail against a naked man. The general interests of literature are involved by the illegitimate suppression of a work, of which the purpose is to correct another, whatever may be the invective which accompanies the correction: nor are we always to assign to malignant motives even this spirit of invective, which, though it betrays a contracted genius, may also show the earnestness of an honest one.

The quarrel between Camden, the great author of the “Britannia,” and Brooke, the “York Herald,” may illustrate these principles. It has hitherto been told to the shame of the inferior genius; but the history of Brooke was imperfectly known to his contemporaries. Crushed by oppression, his tale was marred in the telling. A century sometimes passes away before the world can discover the truth even of a private history.

Brooke is aspersed as a man of the meanest talents, insensible to the genius of Camden, rankling with envy at his fame, and correcting the “Britannia” out of mere spite.

When the history of Brooke is known, and his labours fairly estimated, we shall blame him much less than he has been blamed; and censure Camden, who has escaped all censure, 491 and whose conduct, in the present instance, was destitute of magnanimity and justice.

The character of the author of “Britannia” is great, and this error of his feelings, now first laid to his charge, may be attributed as much to the weakness of the age as to his own extreme timidity, and perhaps to a little pride. Conscious as was Camden of enlarged views, we can easily pardon him for the contempt he felt, when he compared them with the subordinate ones of his cynical adversary.

Camden possessed one of those strongly directed minds which early in life plan some vast labour, while their imagination and their industry feed on it for many successive years; and they shed the flower and sweetness of their lives in the preparation of a work which at its maturity excites the gratitude of their nation. His passion for our national antiquities discovered itself even in his school-days, grew up with him at the University; and, when afterwards engaged in his public duties as master at Westminster school, he there composed his “Britannia,” “at spare hours, and on festival days.” To the perpetual care of his work, he voluntarily sacrificed all other views in life, and even drew himself away from domestic pleasures; for he refused marriage and preferments, which might interrupt his beloved studies! The work at length produced, received all the admiration due to so great an enterprise; and even foreigners, as the work was composed in the universal language of learning, could sympathise with Britons, when they contemplated the stupendous labour. Camden was honoured by the titles (for the very names of illustrious genius become such), of the Varro, the Strabo, and the Pausanias of Britain.

While all Europe admired the “Britannia,” a cynical genius, whose mind seemed bounded by his confined studies, detected one error amidst the noble views the mighty volume embraced; the single one perhaps he could perceive, and for which he stood indebted to his office as “York Herald.” Camden, in an appendage to the end of each county, had committed numerous genealogical errors, which he afterwards affected, in his defence, to consider as trivial matters in so great a history, and treats his adversary with all the contempt and bitterness he could inflict on him; but Ralph Brooke entertained very high notions of the importance of heraldical studies, and conceived that the “Schoolmaster” Camden, as he considered him, had encroached on the rights 492 and honours of his College of Heralds. When particular objects engage our studies, we are apt to raise them in the scale of excellence to a degree disproportioned to their real value; and are thus liable to incur ridicule. But it should be considered that many useful students are not philosophers, and the pursuits of their lives are never ridiculous to them. It is not the interest of the public to degrade this class too low. Every species of study contributes to the perfection of human knowledge, by that universal bond which connects them all in a philosophical mind.

Brooke prepared “A Discovery of Certain Errors in the Much-commended Britannia.” When we consider Brooke’s character, as headstrong with heraldry as Don Quixote’s with romances of chivalry, we need not attribute his motives (as Camden himself, with the partial feelings of an author, does, and subsequent writers echo) to his envy at Camden’s promotion to be Clarencieux King of Arms; for it appears that Brooke began his work before this promotion. The indecent excesses of his pen, with the malicious charges of plagiarism he brings against Camden for the use he made of Leland’s collections, only show the insensibility of the mere heraldist to the nobler genius of the historian. Yet Brooke had no ordinary talents: his work is still valuable for his own peculiar researches; but his naïve shrewdness, his pointed precision, the bitter invective, and the caustic humour of his cynical pen, give an air of originality, if not of genius, which no one has dared to notice. Brooke’s first work against Camden was violently disturbed in its progress, and hurried, in a mutilated state, into the world, without licence or a publisher’s name. Thus impeded, and finally crushed, the howl of persecution followed his name; and subsequent writers servilely traced his character from their partial predecessors.

But Brooke, though denied the fair freedom of the press, and a victim to the powerful connexions of Camden, calmly pursued his silent labour with great magnanimity. He wrote his “Second Discovery of Errors,” an enlargement of the first. This he carefully finished for the press, but could never get published. The secret history of the controversy may be found there.[396]


Brooke had been loudly accused of indulging a personal rancour against Camden, and the motive of his work was attributed to envy of his great reputation; a charge constantly repeated.

Yet this does not appear, for when Brooke first began his “Discovery of Errors,” he did not design its publication; for he liberally offered Camden his Observations and Collections. They were fastidiously, perhaps haughtily, rejected; on this pernicious and false principle, that to correct his errors in genealogy might discredit the whole work. On which absurdity Brooke shrewdly remarks—“As if healing the sores would have maimed the body.” He speaks with more humility on this occasion than an insulted, yet a skilful writer, was likely to do, who had his labours considered, as he says, “worthy neither of thanks nor acceptance.”

“The rat is not so contemptible but he may help the lion, at a pinch, out of those nets wherein his strength is hampered; and the words of an inferior may often carry matter in them to admonish his superior of some important consideration; and surely, of what account soever I might have seemed to this learned man, yet, in respect to my profession and courteous offer, (I being an officer-of-arms, and he then but a schoolmaster), might well have vouchsafed the perusal of my notes.”

When he published, our herald stated the reasons of writing against Camden with good-humour, and rallies him on his “incongruity in his principles of heraldry—for which I challenge him!—for depriving some nobles of issue to succeed them, who had issue, of whom are descended many worthy families: denying barons and earls that were, and making barons and earls of others that were not; mistaking the son for the father, and the father for the son; affirming legitimate children to be illegitimate, and illegitimate to be legitimate; and framing incestuous and unnatural marriages, making the father to marry the son’s wife, and the son his own mother.”

He treats Camden with the respect due to his genius, while he judiciously distinguishes where the greatest ought to know when to yield.

“The most abstruse arts I profess not, but yield the palm and victory to mine adversary, that great learned Mr. Camden, 494 with whom, yet, a long experimented navigator may contend about his chart and compass, about havens, creeks, and sounds; so I, an ancient herald, a little dispute, without imputation of audacity, concerning the honour of arms, and the truth of honourable descents.”

Brooke had seen, as he observes, in four editions of the “Britannia,” a continued race of errors, in false descents, &c., and he continues, with a witty allusion:—

“Perceiving that even the brains of many learned men beyond the seas had misconceived and miscarried in the travail and birth of their relations, being gotten, as it were, with child (as Diomedes’s mares) by the blasts of his erroneous puffs; I could not but a little question the original father of their absurdities, being so far blown, with the trumpet of his learning and fame, into foreign lands.”

He proceeds with instances of several great authors on the Continent having been misled by the statements of Camden.

Thus largely have I quoted from Brooke, to show, that at first he never appears to have been influenced by the mean envy, or the personal rancour, of which he is constantly accused. As he proceeded in his work, which occupied him several years, his reproaches are whetted with a keener edge, and his accusations are less generous. But to what are we to attribute this? To the contempt and persecution Brooke so long endured from Camden: these acted on his vexed and degraded spirit, till it burst into the excesses of a man heated with injured feelings.

When Camden took his station in the Herald’s College with Brooke, whose offers of his notes he had refused to accept, they soon found what it was for two authors to live under the same roof, who were impatient to write against each other. The cynical York, at first, would twit the new king-of-arms, perpetually affirming that “his predecessor was a more able herald than any who lived in this age:” a truth, indeed, acknowledged by Dugdale. On this occasion, once the king-of-arms gave malicious York “the lie!” reminding the crabbed herald of “his own learning; who, as a scholar, was famous through all the provinces of Christendom.” “So that (adds Brooke) now I learnt, that before him, when we speak in commendation of any other, to say, I must always except Plato.” Camden would allow of no private communication between them; and in Sermonibus Convivalibus, in his table-talk, “the heat and height of his spirit” often scorched 495 the contemned Yorkist, whose rejected “Discovery of Errors” had no doubt been too frequently enlarged, after such rough convivialities. Brooke now resolved to print; but, in printing the work, the press was disturbed, and his house was entered by “this learned man, his friends, and the stationers.” The latter were alarmed for the sale of the “Britannia,” which might have been injured by this rude attack. The work was therefore printed in an unfinished state: part was intercepted; and the author stopped, by authority, from proceeding any further. Some imperfect copies got abroad.

The treatment the exasperated Brooke now incurred was more provoking than Camden’s refusal of his notes, and the haughtiness of his “Sermonibus Convivalibus.” The imperfect work was, however, laid before the public, so that Camden could not refuse to notice its grievous charges. He composed an angry reply in Latin, addressed ad Lectorem! and never mentioning Brooke by name, contemptuously alludes to him only by a Quidam and Iste (a certain person, and He!)—“He considers me (cries the mortified Brooke, in his second suppressed work) as an Individuum vagum, and makes me but a Quidam in his pamphlet, standing before him as a schoolboy, while he whips me. Why does he reply in Latin to an English accusation? He would disguise himself in his school-rhetoric; wherein, like the cuttle-fish, being stricken, he thinks to hide and shift himself away in the ink of his rhetoric. I will clear the waters again.”

He fastens on Camden’s former occupation, virulently accusing him of the manners of a pedagogue:—“A man may perceive an immoderate and eager desire of vainglory growing in hand, ever since he used to teach and correct children for these things, according to the opinion of some, in mores et naturam abeunt.” He complains of “the school-hyperboles” which Camden exhausts on him, among which Brooke is compared to “the strumpet Leontion,” who wrote against “the divine Theophrastus.” To this Brooke keenly replies:

“Surely, had Theophrastus dealt with women’s matters, a woman, though mean, might in reason have contended with him. A king must be content to be laughed at if he come into Apelles’s shop, and dispute about colours and portraiture. I am not ambitious nor envious to carp at matters of higher learning than matters of heraldry, which I profess: that is the slipper, wherein I know a slip when I find it. But see your cunning; you can, with the blur of your pen, dipped in 496 copperas and gall, make me learned and unlearned; nay, you can almost change my sex, and make me a whore, like Leontion; and, taking your silver pen again, make yourself the divine Theophrastus.”

At the close of Camden’s answer, he introduced the allegorical picture of Calumny, that elegant invention of the Grecian fancy of Apelles, painted by him when suffering under the false accusations of a rival. The picture is described by Lucian; but it has received many happy touches from the classical hand of the master of Westminster School. As a literary satire, he applies it with great dignity. I give here a translation, but I preserve the original Latin in the note as Camden’s reply to Brooke is not easily to be procured.

“But though I am not disposed to waste more words on these, and this sort of men, yet I cannot resist the temptation of adding a slight sketch, for I cannot give that vivacity of colouring of the picture of the great artist Apelles that our Antiphilus and the like, whose ears are ever open to calumny, may, in contemplating it, find a reflection of themselves.

“On the right hand sits a man, who, to show his credulity, is remarkable for his prodigious ears, similar to those of Midas. He extends his hand to greet Calumny, who is approaching him. The two diminutive females around him are Ignorance and Suspicion. Opposite to them, Calumny advances, betraying in her countenance and gesture the savage rage and anger working in her tempestuous breast: her left hand holds a flaming torch; while with her right she drags by the hair a youth, who, stretching his uplifted hands to Heaven, is calling on the immortal powers to bear testimony to his innocence. She is preceded by a man of a pallid and impure appearance, seemingly wasting away under some severe disease, except that his eye sparkles, and has not the dulness usual to such. That Envy is here meant, you readily conjecture. Some diminutive females, frauds and deceits, attend her as companions, whose office is to encourage and instruct, and studiously to adorn their mistress. In the background, Repentance, sadly arrayed in a mournful, worn-out, and ragged garment, who, with averted head, with tears and shame, acknowledges and prepares to receive Truth, approaching from a distance.”[397]


This elegant picture, so happily introduced into a piece of literary controversy, appears to have only slightly affected the mind of Brooke, which was probably of too stout a grain to take the folds of Grecian drapery. Instead of sympathising with its elegance, he breaks out into a horse-laugh; and, what is quite unexpected among such grave inquiries into a ludicrous tale in verse, which, though it has not Grecian fancy, has broad English humour, where he maliciously insinuates that Camden had appropriated to his own use, or “new-coated his ‘Britannia’” with Leland’s MSS., and disguised what he had stolen.

Now, to show himself as good a painter as he is a herald, he propounded, at the end of his book, a table (i.e. a picture) of his own invention, being nothing comparable to “Apelles,” as he himself confesseth, and we believe him; for, like the rude painter that was fain to write, ‘This is a Horse,’ upon his painted horse, he writes upon his picture the names of all that furious rabble therein expressed—which, for to requite him, I will return a tale of John Fletcher (some time of Oxford) and his horse. Neither can this fable be any disparagement to his table, being more ancient and authenticall, and far more conceipted than his envious picture. And thus it was:—


John Fletcher, famous, and a man well known,
But using not his sirname’s trade alone,[398]
Did hackney out poor jades for common hire,
Not fit for any pastime but to tire.
His conscience, once, surveying his jade’s stable,
Prick’d him, for keeping horses so unable.
“Oh why should I,” saith John, “by scholars thrive,
For jades that will not carry, lead, nor drive?”

To mend the matter, out he starts, one night,
And having spied a palfrey somewhat white,
He takes him up, and up he mounts his back,
Rides to his house, and there he turns him black;

Marks him in forehead, feet, in rump, and crest,
As coursers mark those horses which are best.
So neatly John had coloured every spot,
That the right owner sees him, knows him not.

Had he but feather’d his new-painted breast,
He would have seemèd Pegasus at least.
Who but John Fletcher’s horse, in all the town,
Amongst all hackneys, purchased this renown?

But see the luck; John Fletcher’s horse, one night,
By rain was wash’d again almost to white.
His first right owner, seeing such a change,
Thought he should know him, but his hue was strange!

But eyeing him, and spying out his steed,
By flea-bit spots of his now washèd weed,
Seizes the horse; so Fletcher was attainted,
And did confess the horse—he stole and painted.

To close with honour to Brooke; in his graver moments he warmly repels the accusation Camden raised against him, as an enemy to learning, and appeals to many learned scholars, who had tasted of his liberality at the Universities, towards their maintenance; but, in an elevated tone, he asserts his right to deliver his animadversions as York Herald.

“I know (says Brooke) the great advantage my adversary has over me, in the received opinion of the world. If some will blame me for that my writings carry some characters of spleen against him, men of pure affections, and not partial, will think reason that he should, by ill hearing, lose the pleasure he conceived by ill speaking. But since I presume not to understand above that which is meet for me to know, I must not be discouraged, nor fret myself, because of the malicious; for I find myself seated upon a rock, that is sure from tempest and waves, from whence I have a prospect into his errors and waverings. I do confess his great worth and merit, and that we Britons are in some sort beholding to him; and might have been much more, if God had lent him 499 the grace to have played the faithful steward, in the talent committed to his trust and charge.”

Such was the dignified and the intrepid reply of Ralph Brooke, a man whose name is never mentioned without an epithet of reproach; and who, in his own day, was hunted down, and not suffered, vindictive as he was no doubt, to relieve his bitter and angry spirit, by pouring it forth to the public eye.[399]

But the story is not yet closed. Camden, who wanted the magnanimity to endure with patient dignity the corrections of an inferior genius, had the wisdom, with the meanness, silently to adopt his useful corrections, but would never confess the hand which had brought them.[400]

Thus hath Ralph Brooke told his own tale undisturbed, and, after the lapse of more than a century, the press has been opened to him. Whenever a great author is suffered to gag the mouth of his adversary, Truth receives the insult. But there is another point more essential to inculcate in literary controversy. Ought we to look too scrupulously into the motives which may induce an inferior author to detect the errors of a greater? A man from no amiable motive may perform a proper action: Ritson was useful after Warton; nor have we a right to ascribe it to any concealed motives, which, after all, may be doubtful. In the present instance, our much-abused Ralph Brooke first appears to have composed his elaborate 500 work from the most honourable motives: the offer he made of his Notes to Camden seems a sufficient evidence. The prid