Isaac Disraeli.

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mons for relief against a famine in the land, our Maratist ob-
served, that " this want of food would best defend those coun-
ties from Scottish invasioA ! *' • The slaughter of Drogheda
by Cromwell, and his frightening all London by what Walker
calls " a butchery of apprentices," when he cried out to his
soldiers " to kill man, woman, and child, and fire the city ! "f
may be placed among those crimes which are committed to
open a reign of terror — ^but Hugh Peters's solemn thanks-
giving to Heaven that " none were spared ! " was the true
expression of the true feeling of these political demoniacs.
Cromwell was cruel from politics, others from constitution.
Some were wiUing to be cruel without "blood-guiltiness."
One Alexander Rigby, a radical lawyer, twice moved in the
Long Parliament, that those lords and gentlemen who were
" malignants," should be sold as slaves to the Dey of Algiers ^
or sent off to the new plantations in the West Indies. He
had all things prepared ; for it is added that he had contracted
with two merchants to ship them off.t There was a most
bloody-minded " maker of washing-balls," as one John Durant
is described, appointed a lecturer by the House of Commons,

♦ Clement Walker's History of Independency, Part 11. 178.

t lb. Part I. 160.

X Mercorius Busticus, xii. 116. Barwick's Life, p. 42.

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who always left out of the Lord's prayer, " As we forgive
them that trespass against us, and substituted, " Lord, since
thou hast now drawn out thy sword, let it not be sheathed
again till it be glutted in the blood of the malignants." I find
too many enormities of this kind. " Cursed be he that doeth
the work of the Lord negligently, and keepeth back his sword
from blood ! " was the cry of the wretch, who, when a cele-
brated actor and royalist sued for quarter, gave no other reply
than that of " fitting the action to the word." Their treat-
ment of the Lish may possibly be admired by a true Machi-
avelist : " they permitted forty thousand of the Irish to enlist
in the service of the kings of Spain and France — ^in other
words, they expelled them at once, which, considering that
our Rumpers affected such an abhorrence of tyranny, may
be considered as an act of mercy ! satisfying themselves only
with dividing the forfeited lands of the aforesaid forty thou-
sand among their own party, by lot and other means." An
universal confiscation, after all, is a bloodless massacre. They
used the Scotch soldiers, after the battles of Dunbar and
Worcester a little differently — ^but equally efficaciously — for
they sold their Scotch prisoners for slaves to the American

The Robespierres and the Marats were as extraordinary
beings, and in some respects the Frenchmen were working on
a more enlarged scheme. These discovered, that " the gen-
eration which had witnessed the preceding one would always
regret it; and for the security of the Revolution, it was
necessary that every person who was thirty years old in 1788
should perish on the scaffold ! " The anarchists were intent

* The following account is drawn fVom Sir William Dugdale*8 inter-
leaved Pocket-book for 1648. — ^**Aug. 17. The Scotch army, under tlie
command of Duke Hamilton, defeated at Preston, in Lancashire. 24th.
The Moorlanders rose upon the Scots and stript some of them. The Scotch
prisoners miserably used; exposed to eat cabbage-leaves in Ridgley (Staf-
fordshu-e), and carrot-tops in Coleshill (Warwickshire). The soldiers who
guarded them sold the victuals which were brought in for them from the

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on reducing the French people to eight millions, and on
destroying the great cities of France. *

Such monstrous persons and events are not credible — but
this is no proof that they have not occurred. Many incredi-
ble things will happen !

Another disorganizing feature in the English Bumpers was
also observed in the French Sans-culottes — their hatred of
literature and the arts. Hebert was one day directing his
satellites towards the Bihliotheque NatianaU, to put an end
to all that human knowledge had collected for centuries on
centuries — in one day ! alleging, of course, some good reason.
This hero was only diverted from the enterprise by being
persuaded to postpone it for a day or two, when luckily the
guillotine intervened ; the same circumstance occurred here.
The burning of the records in the Tower was certainly pro-
posed; a speech of Selden's, which I cannot immediately
turn to, put a stop to these incendiaries. It was debated in
the Rump parliament, when Cromwell was general, whether
they should dissolve the universities f They concluded that
no university was necessary; that there were no ancient
examples of such education, and that scholars in other coun-
tries did study at their own cost and charges, and therefore
they looked on them as unnecessary, and thought them fitting
to be taken away for the public use ! — How these venerable
asylums escaped from being sold with the king's pictures, as
stone and timber, and why their rich endowments were not
shared among such inveterate ignorance and remorseless
spoliation, might claim some inquiry.

The Abb6 Morellet, a great political economist, imagined
that the source of all the crimes of the French Revolution
was their violation of the sacred rights of property. The
perpetual invectives of the Sans-culottes of France against
proprietors and against property proceeded from demoralized
beings who formed panegyrics on all crimes ; crimes, to ex-
plain whose revolutionary terms, a new dictionary was re-
* Desodoard's Histoire Philosophique de la Revolution de France, iv. 5.

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quired. But even these anarchists, in their mad expres-
sions against property, and in their wildest notions of their
"egalit^," have not gone beyond the daring o( our own
** Rumpers ! "

Of those revolutionary journals of the parliament of 1649,
which in spirit so strongly resemble the diurnal or hebdoma-
dal effusions of the redoubtable French Hebert, Marat, and
others of that stamp, one of the most remarkable is, '^ The
Moderate, impartially communicating Martial Affairs to the
Kingdom of England ; ** the monarchical title our common-
wealth men had not yet had time enough to obliterate from
their colloquial style. This writer called himself, in his
barbarous English, The Moderate! It would be hard to
conceive the meanness and illiteracy to which the English
language was reduced under the pens of the rabble-writers
of these days, had we not witnessed in the present time a
parallel to their compositions. " The Moderate ! " was a title
assumed on the principle on which Marat denominated him-
self " TAmi du Peuple." It is curious that the most fero-
cious politicians usually assert their moderation. Robespierre,
in his justification, declares that Marat " m'a souvent accus^
de Moderantisme.'* The same actoi's, playing the same pMis,
may be always paralleled in their language and their deeds.
This " Moderate " steadily pursued one great principle — the
overthrow of all property. Assuming that property was the
original cause of sin / an exhortation to the people for this
purpose is the subject of the present paper : * the illustration
of his principle is as striking as the principle itself.

It is an apology for, or rather a defence of robbery ! Some
moss-troopers had been condemned to be hanged, for practis-
ing their venerable custom of gratuitously supplying them-
selves from the flocks and herds of their weaker neighbours :
our " Moderate " ingeniously discovers, that the loss of these
men's lives is to be attributed to nothing but property. They

* The Moderate, from Tuesday, July 81, to August 7, 1649.

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are necessitated to offend the laws, in order to obtain a liveli-

On this he descants ; and the extract is a political curiosity,
in the French style ! " Property is the original cause of any
sin between party and party as to civil transactions. And
since the tyrant is taken off, and the government altered in
nominey so ought it really to redound to the good of the
people in specie; which, though they cannot expect it in few
years, by reason of the multiplicity of the gentlemen in au-
thority, command, &c. who drive on all designs for support
of the old government, and consequently their own interest
and the people^ s slavery, yet they doubt not, but in time the
people will herein discern their own blindness and folly."

In September, he advanced with more depth of thought.
" Wars have ever been clothed with the most gracious pre-
tences — viz : reformation of religion, the laws of the land, the
liberty of the subject, &c. ; though the effects thereof have
proved most destructive to every nation ; making the sword,
and not the people, the original of all authorities for many
hundred years together, taking away each man^s birthright,
and settling upon a few A cursed propriety; the gi-ound
of all civil offences, and the greatest cause of most sins
against the heavenly Deity. This tyranny and oppression
running through the veins of many of our predecessors, and
being too long maintained by the sword upon a royal foun-
dation, at last became so customary, as to the vulgar it seemed
most natural — the only reason why the people of this time
are so ignorant of their birthright, their only freedom," &c.

" The birthright" of citoyen Egalite to " a cursed propri-
ety settled on afew^^ was not, even among the French Jaco-
bins, urged with more amazing force. Had things proceeded
according to our " Moderate's " plan, " the people's slavery "
had been something worse. In a short time the nation would
have had more proprietors than property. We have a curi-
ous list of the spoliations of those members of the House of
Commons, who, after their famous self -denying ordinances.

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appropriated among themselves sums of money, offices, and
lands, for services " done or to be done."

The most innocent of this new government of " the Majesty
of the People,** were those whose talents had been limited by
Nature to peddle and purloin ; puny mechanics, who had sud-
denly dropped their needles, their hammere, and their lasts,
and slunk out from behind their shop-counters ; those who
had never aspired beyond the constable of the parish, were
now seated in the council of state ; where, as Milton describes
them, " they fell to huckster the commonwealth : *' there they
met a more rabid race of obscure lawyers, and discontented
men of family, of blasted reputations ; adventurers, who were
to command the militia and navy of England, — ^govemors of
the three kingdoms ! whose votes and ordinances resounded
with nothing else but new impositions, new taxes, excises,
yearly, monthly, weekly sequestrations, compositions, and
universal robbery !

Baxter vents one deep groan of indignation, and presciently
announces one future consequence of Reform ! " In all this
appeared the severity of Grod, the mutability of worldly things,
and the fruits of error, pride, and selfishness, to he charged
hereafter upon reformation and religion*^ As a statesman,
the sagacity of this honest prophet was narrowed by the hori-
zon of his religious views ; for he ascribes the whole as
" prepared by Satan to the injury of the Protestant cause,
and the advantage of the Papists ! " But dropping his par-
ticular application to the devil and the Papists, honest Richard
Baxter is perfectly right in his general principle concerning
" Bumpers,'* — ^ Sans-culottes,** and " Radicals."

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Such a picture may be furnished by some unexpected
materials which my inquiries have obtained of Oldys. This
is a sort of personage little known to the wits, who write
more than they read, and to their volatile votaries, who only
read what the wits write. It is time to vindicate the honours
of the few whose laborious days enrich the stores of national
literature, not by the duplicates but the supplements of knowl-
edge. A literary antiquary is that idler whose life is passed
in a perpetual voyage autour de ma chambre ; fervent in
sagacious diligence, instinct with the enthusiasm of curious
inquiry, critical as well as erudite ; he has to arbitrate between
contending opinions, to resolve the doubtful, to clear up the
obscure, and to grasp at the remote ; so busied with other
times, and so interested for other persons than those about
him, that he becomes the inhabitant of the visionary world of
books. He counts only his days by his acquisitions, and may
be said by his original discoveries to be the creator op
FACTS ; often exciting the gratitude of the literary world,
while the very name of the benefactor has not always de-
scended with the inestimable labours.

Such is the man whom we often find leaving, when he dies,
his favourite volumes only an incomplete project ! and few
of this class of literary men have escaped the fate reserved
for most of their brothers. Voluminous works have been
usually left unfinished by the death of the authors ; and it is
with them as with the planting of ti'ees, of which Johnson
has forcibly observed, " There is a frightful interval between
the seed and timber." And he admirably remarks, what I
cannot forbear applying to the labours I am now to describe :
" He that calculates the growth of trees has the remembrance
of the shortness of life driven hard upon him. He knows
that he is doing what will never benefit himself; and when he

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rejoices to see the stem rise, is disposed to repine that another
shall cut it down." The days of the patriotic Count Mazza-
chelli were freely given to his national literature ; and six
invaluable folios attest the gigantic force of his immense eru-
dition ; yet these only carry us through the letters A and B :
and though Mazzuchelli had finished for the press other vol-
umes, the torpor of his descendants has defrauded Europe of
her claims. The Abb4 Groujet, who had designed a classified
history of his national literature, in the eighteen volumes we
possess, could only conclude that of the translators, and com-
mence that of the poets ; two other volumes in manuscript
have perished. That great enterprise of the Benedictines,
the " Histoire Lit^raire de la France," now consists of twelve
large quartos, and the industry of its successive writers has
only been able to carry it to the twelfth century. David
Clement designed the most extensive bibliography which had
ever appeared ; but the diligent life of the writer could only
proceed as far as H. The alphabetical order, which so many
writers of this class have adopted, has proved a mortifying
memento of human life ! Tiraboschi was so fortunate as to
complete his great national history of Italian literature. But,
unhappily for us, Thomas Warton, after feeling his way
through the darker ages of our poetry, in planning the map
of the beautiful land, of which he had only a Pisgah-sight,
expired amidst his volumes. The most precious portion of
Warton's history is but the fragment of a fragment

Oldys, among this brotherhood, has met perhaps with a
harder fate ; his published works, and the numerous ones to
which he contributed, are now highly appreciated by the
lovers of books ; but the larger portion of his literary labours
have met with the sad fortune of dispersed, and probably
of wasted manuscripts. Oldys's manuscripts, or O. M. as they
are sometimes designated, are constantly referred to by every
distinguished writer on our literary history. I believe that
not one of them could have given us any positive account of
the manuscripts themselves ! They have indeed long served

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as the solitary sources of information — ^but like the well at
the way-side, too many have drawn their waters in silence.

Oldys is chiefly known by the caricature of the facetious
Grose ; a great humorist, both with pencil and with pen : it is
in a posthumous scrap-book, where Grose deposited his odds
and ends, and where there is perhaps not a single story which
is not satirical. Our lively antiquary, who cared more for
rusty armour than for rusty volumes, would turn over these
flams and quips to some confidential friend, to enjoy together
a secret laugh at their literary intimates. His eager executor,
who happened to be his bookseller, served up the poignant
hash to the public as " Grose's Olio ! " The delineation of
Oldys is sufficiently overcharged for " the nonce." One
prevalent infirmity of honest Oldys, his love of companicwi-
ship over too social a glass, sends him down to posterity in a
grotesque attitude ; and Mr. Alexander Chalmers, who has
given us the fullest account of Oldys, has inflicted on him
something like a sermon, on ^< a state of intoxication."

Alas ! — Oldys was an outcast of fortune, and the utter
simplicity of his heart was guileless as a child's— ever open
to the designing. The noble spirit of a Duke of Norfolk
once rescued the long-lost historian of Rawleigh from the
confinement of the Fleet, where he had existed, probably for-
gotten by the world, for six years. It was by an act of grace
that the duke safely placed Oldys in the Heralds' College as
Norroy King of Arms.* But Oldys, like all shy and retired

* Mr. John Taylor, the son of Oldys's intimate friend, has famished me
with this interesting anecdote. " Oldys, as my father informed me, was
many years in quiet obscurity in the Fleet prison, but at last was spirited
up to make his situation known to the Duke of Norfolk of that time, who
received Oldys's letter while he was at dinner with some friends. The
Duke immediately communicated the contents to the company, observing
that he had long been anxious to know what had become of an old, though
an humble friend, and was happy by that letter to find that he was alive.
He then called for his gentleman^ (a kind of humble friend whom noblemen
used to retain under that name in those days,) and desired him to go im-
mediately to the Fleet, to take money for the immediate need of Oldys, to
procure an account of his debts, and discharge them. Oldys was soon

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men, had contracted peculiar habits and close attachments for
a few ; both these he could indulge at no distance. He liked
his old associates in the purlieus of the Fleet, whom he face-
tiously dignified as " his Rulers," and there, as I have heard,
with the grotesque whim of a herald, established "The
Dragon Club." Companionship yields the poor man unpur-
chased pleasures. Oldys, busied every morning among the
departed wits and the learned of our country, reflected some
image from them of their wit and learning to his companions :
a secret history as yet untold, and ancient wit, which, cleared
of the rust, seemed to him brilliant as the modem !

It is hard, however, for a literary antiquary to be carica-
tured, and for a herald to be ridiculed about an " unseemly
reeling, with the coronet of the Pnncess Caroline, which
looked unsteady on the cushion, to the great scandal of his
brethren," — a circumstance which could never have occurred
at the burial of a prince or princess, as the coronet is carried
by Clarencieux, and not by Norroy. Oldys's deep potations
of ale, however, give me an opportunity of bestowing on
him the honour of being the author of a popular Anacreontic
song. Mr. Taylor informs me that " Oldys always asserted
that he was the author of the well-known song —

* Busy, curioas, thirsty fly I '

and as he was a rigid lover of truth, I doubt not that he
wrote it." My own researches confirm it ; I have traced this
popular song through a dozen of collections since the year
1740, the first in which I find it. In the later collections an
original inscription has been dropped, which the accurate

after, either by the duke's gift or interest, appointed Norroy King of Arms,
and I remember that his official regalia came into my father*s hands at his

In the Life of Oldys, by Mr. A. Chalmers, the date of this promotion is
not found. My accomplished friend, the Rev. J. Dallaway, has obligingly
examined the records of the college, by which it appears that Oldjrs had
been No7'folk herald extraordinary^ but not belonging to the college, was
appointed />er saUum Norroy King of Arms by patent. May 6th, 1766.

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Ritson has restored, without, however, being able to discover
the writer. In 1740 it is said to have been " made extem-
pore by a gentleman, occasioned bj ^fly drinking out of his
cwp of ale ; '* — the accustomed potion of poor Oldys I *

Grose, however, though a great joker on the peculiarities
of Oldys, was far from insensible to the extraordinary acqui-
sitions of the man. " His knowledge of English books has
hardly been exceeded." Grose too was struck by the deli-
cacy of honour, and the unswerving veracity which so strongly
characterized Oldys, of which he gives a remarkable instance.
We are concerned in ascertaining the moral integrity of the
writer, whose main business is with history.

At a time when our literarj' history, excepting in the soli-
tary labour of Anthony Wood, was a forest, with neither road
nor pathway, Oldys, fortunately placed in the library of the
Earl of Oxford, yielded up his entire days to researches con-
cerning the books and the men of the preceding age. His
labours were then valueless, their very nature not yet ascer-
tained, and when he opened the treasures of our ancient lore,

♦ The beautifal simplicity of this Anacreontic has met the unusual fate
of entirely losing its character, by an additional and incongruous stanza in
the modem editions, by a gentleman who has put into practice the unal-
lowable liberty of altering the poetical and dramatic compositions of ac-
knowledged genius to his own notion of what he deems " morality; " but
in works of genius whatever is dull ceases to be moral. " The Fly '* of
Oldys may stand by " The Fly of Gray for melancholy tenderness of
thought; it consisted only of these two stanzas:

** Busy, curious, thirsty fly !
Drink with me, and drink as I !
Freely welcome to my cup,
Couldst thou sip and sip it up:
Make the most of life you may;
Life is short and wears away!

Both alike are mine and thine,
Hastening quick to their decline !
Thine* s a summer, mine no more,
Though repeated to threescore !
Threescore sunmiers when they're gone,
Will appear as short as one ! *'

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in " The British Librarian," it was closed for want of public
encouragement. Our writers, then struggling to create an
age of genius of their own, forgot that they had had any pro-
genitors ; or, while they were acquiring new modes of excel-
lence, that they were losing others, to which their posterity
or the national genius might return. (To know, and to
admire only, the literature and the tastes of our own age, is a
species of elegant barbarism.) * Spenser was considered
nearly as obsolete as Chaucer ; Milton was veiled by oblivion,
and Shakspeare's dramas were so imperfectly known, that in
looking over the play-bills of 1711, and much later, I find
that whenever it chanced that they were acted, they were
always announced to have been " written by Shakspeare."
Massinger was unknown; and Jonson, though called "im-
mortal " in the old play-bills, lay entombed in his two folios.
The poetical era of Elizabeth, the eloquent age of James the
First, and the age of wit of Charles the Second, were blanks
in our literary history. Bysshe compiling an Art of Poetry,
in 1718, passed by in his collection " Spenser and the poets
of his age, because their language is now become so obsolete,
that most readers of our age have no ear for them, and there-
fore Shakspeare himself is so rarely cited in my collection."
The best English poets were considered to be the modem ; a
taste which is always obstinate !

All this was nothing to Oldys ; his literary curiosity antici-
pated by half a century the fervour of the present day. This
energetic direction of all his thoughts was sustained by that
life of discovery, which in literary researches is starting
novelties among old and unremembered things ; contemplat-

Online LibraryIsaac DisraeliCuriosities of literature → online text (page 37 of 43)