William Hazlitt.

Lectures on the English poets : [and] The spirit of the age; or contemporary portraits. online

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Online LibraryWilliam HazlittLectures on the English poets : [and] The spirit of the age; or contemporary portraits. → online text (page 31 of 38)
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Examiner Newspaper : a greater and more unpardonable offence
probably was, that he was a true poet, with all the errors and beauties
of youthful geniua to answer for. Mr. Gifford was as insensible to
the one as he was inexorable to the other. Let the reader judge


from the two subjoined specimens how far the one writer could
ever, without a presumption equalled only by a want of self-knowledge,
set himself in judgment on the other.

1 Out went the taper as she hurried in ;
Its little smoke in pallid moonshine died :
She closed the door, she panted, all akin
To spirits of the air and visions wide :
No utter'd syllable, or woe betide !
But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
Paining with eloquence her balmy side;
As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
Her heart in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.

' A casement high and triple-arcrTd there was,
All garlanded with carven imag'ries
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grnss,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings ,
And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings.

' Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline's fair breast,
As down she knelt for Heaven's grace and boon ;
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together pre-t,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory, like a saint :
She seem'd a splendid angel, newly drest,
Save wings, for heaven :— Porphyro grew taint :
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.

« Anon his heart revives : her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she trees j
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one ;
Loosens her fragrant boddice ; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees :
Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.

« Soon trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex'd she lay
Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress d
Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away



Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day:
Blissfully haven'd both from joy and pain ;
Clasp'd like a missal where swart Paynims pray ;
Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.'

Eve of St. Agnes.

With the rich beauties and the dim obscurities of lines like these, let
us contrast the Verses addressed To a Tuft of early Violets by the
fastidious author of the Baviad and Masviad. —

' Sweet flowers ! that from your humble beds
Thus prematurely dare to rise,
And trust your unprotected heads
To cold Aquarius 1 watery skies.

' Retire, retire ! These tepid airs

Are not the genial brood of May;
That sun with light malignant glares,
And flatters only to betray.

' Stern Winter's reign is not yet past —
Lo ! while your buds prepare to blow,
On icy pinions comes the blast,

And nips your root, and lays you low.

1 Alas, for such ungentle doom !

But I will shield you ; and supply
A kindlier soil on which to bloom,
A nobler bed on which to die.

' Come then — 'ere yet the morning ray

Has drunk the dew that gems your ere:*.,
And drawn your balmiest sweets away;
O come and grace my Anna's breast.

1 Ye droop, fond flowers ! But did ye know
What worth, what goodness there reside,
Your cups with liveliest tints would glow ;
And spread their leaves with conscious pride.

For there has liberal Nature joined

Her riches to the stores of Art,
And added to the vigorous mind

The soft, the sympathising heart.

Come then — 'ere yet the morning ray

Has drunk the dew that gems your crest,

And drawn your balmiest sweets away ;
O come and grace my Anna's breast.'


4 O ! I should think — that fragrant bed
Might I but hope with you to share — l
Years of anxiety repaid

By one short hour of transport there.

'More blest than me, thus shall ye live
Your little day; and when ye die,
Sweet flowers ! the grateful Muse shall give
A verse ; the sorrowing maid, a sigh.

' While I alas ! no distant date,

Mix with the dust from whence I came,
Without a friend to weep my fate,
Without a stone to tell my name/

We subjoin one more specimen of these ' wild strains ' 2 said
to be ' Written tivo years after the preceding' Ecce iterum

' I wish I was where Anna lies ;
For I am sick of lingering here,
And every hour Affection cries,
Go, and partake her humble bier.

1 What an awkward bedfellow for a tuft of violets !

s * How oft, O Dart ! what time the faithful pair

Walk'd forth, the fragrant hour of eve to share,

On thy romantic banks, have my wild strains

(Not yet forgot amidst my native plains)

While thou hast sweetly gurgled down the vale,

Filled up the pause of love's delightful tale !

While, ever as she read, the conscious maid,

By faultering voice and downcast looks betray'd,

Would blushing on her lover's neck recline,

And with her finger — point the tendeust line !'

Maviad, pp. 19+, 202.
Yet the author assures us just before, that in these 'wild strains' 'all wat

' Even then (admire, John Bell ! my simple ways)

No heaven and hell danced madly through my lays,

No oaths, no execrations ; all was plain ;

Yet trust me, while thy ever jingling train

Chime their sonorous woes with frigid art,

And shock the reason and revolt the heart ;

My hopes and fears, in nature's language drest,

Awakened love in many a gentle breast.'

Ibid., v. 185-92.

If any one else had composed these 'wild strains,' in which 'all is plain,' Mr.
Gifford would have accused them of three things. ' 1. Downright nonsense. 2.
Downright frigidity. 3. Downright dogyrel ;' and proceeded to anatomise them
very cordially in his way. As it is, he is thrilled with a very pleasing horror at h.a
former scenes of tenderness, and 'gasps at the recollection 'of watery A
he 1 jam satis est ! ' Why rack a grub— a butterfly upon a wheel ?



c I wish I could ! for when she died
I lost my all ; and life has proved
Since that sad hour a dreary void,
A waste unlovely and unlov'd.

' But who, when I am turned to clay,

Shall duly to her grave repair,

And pluck the ragged moss away,

And weeds that have " no business there ?"

•And who, with pious hand, shall bring

The flowers she cherisrfd, snow-drops cold,
And violets that unheeded spring,
To scatter o'er her hallowed mould ?

' And who, while Memory loves to dwell
Upon her name for ever dear,
Shall feel his heart with passions swell,
And pour the bitter, bitter tear ?

'I did IT j and would fate allow,

Should visit still, should still deplore —
But health and strength have left me now,
But I, alas ! can weep no more.

* Take then, sweet maid ! this simple strain,

The last I offer at thy shrine;
Thy grave must then undeck'd remain,
And all thy memory fade with mine.

* And can thy soft persuasive look,

That voice that might with music vie,
Thy air that every gazer took,
Thy matchless eloquence of eye,

' Thy spirits, frolicsome as good,

Thy courage, by no ills dismay 'd,
Thy patience, by no wrongs subdued,

Thy gay good-humour — can they " fade ?"

' Perhaps — but sorrow dims my eye :

Cold turf, which I no more must view,
Bear name, which I no more must sigh,
A long, a last, a sad adieu ! '

It may be said in extenuation of the low, mechanic vein of these
impoverished lines, that they were written at an early age — they
were the inspired production of a youthful lover ! Mr. GifFord was
thirty when he wrote them, Mr. Keats died when he was scarce
'wenty ! Farther it may be said, that Mr. GifTbrd hazarded his



first poetical attempts under all the disadvantage; of a neglected
education : but the same circumstance, together with a few unpruned
redundancies of fancy and quaintnesses of expression, was ma
plea on which Mr. Keats was hooted out of the world, and his fine
talents and wounded sensibilities consigned to an early grave. In
short, the treatment of this heedless candidate for poetical fame
might serve as a warning, and was intended to serve as a warning
to all unfledged tyros, how they venture upon any such doubtful
experiments, except under the auspices of some lord of the bed-
chamber or Government Aristarchus, and how they imprudently
associate themselves with men of mere popular talent or independence
of feeling! — It is the same in prose works. The Editor scorns to
enter the lists of argument with any proscribed writer of the opposite
party. He does not refute, but denounces him. He makes no
concessions to an adversary, lest they should in some way be turned
against him. He only feels himself safe in the fancied insu;nilicance
of others : he only feels himself superior to those whom he stigmatizes
as the lowest of mankind. All persons are without common-sense
and honesty who do not believe implicitly (with him) in the imma-
culateness of Ministers and the divine origin of Kings. Thus he
informed the world that the author of Table-Talk was a person who
could not write a sentence of common English and could hardly spell
his own name, because he was not a friend to the restoration of the
Bourbons, and had the assurance to write Characters of Sbakespear's
Plays in a style of criticism somewhat different from Mr. Girrord's.
He charged this writer with imposing on the public by a flowery
style ; and when the latter ventured to refer to a work of his, called
An Essay on the Principles of Human Action, which has not a single
ornament in it, as a specimen of his original studies and the proper
bias of his mind, the learned critic, with a shrug of great self-
satisfaction, said, 'It was amusing to see this person, sitting like one
of Brouwer's Dutch boors over his gin and tobacco-pipes, am!
ing himself a Leibnitz ! ' The question was, whether the subject of
Mr. GifFord's censure had ever written such a work or not ; for it
he had, he had amused himself with something besides gin and
tobacco-pipes. But our Editor, by virtue of the situation he holds,
is superior to facts or arguments: he is accountable neither to the
public nor to authors for what he says of them, but owes it to his
employers to prejudice the work and vilify the writer, if the latter M
not avowedly ready to range himself on the stronger side— 1 he
Quarterly Review, besides the political tirades and denunciations ot
suspected writers, intended for the guidance ot the heads ot families,
is tilled up with accounts of books of Voyages and 'I ravel. For the



amusement of the younger branches. The poetical department is
almose a sinecure, consisting of mere summary decisions and a list of
quotations. Mr. Croker is understood to contribute the St. Helena
articles and the liberality, Mr. Canning the practical good sense,
Mr. D'Israeli the good-nature, Mr. Jacob the modesty, Mr. Southey
the consistency, and the Editor himself the chivalrous spirit and the
attacks on Lady Morgan. It is a double crime, and excites a double
portion of spleen in the Editor, when female writers are not advocates
of passive obedience and non-resistance. This Journal, then, is a
depository for every species of political sophistry and personal
calumny. There is no abuse or corruption that does not there find a
Jesuitical palliation or a barefaced vindication. There we meet the
slime of hypocrisy, the varnish of courts, the cant of pedantry, the
cobwebs of the law, the iron hand of power. Its object is as
mischievous as the means by which it is pursued are odious. The
intention is to poison the sources of public opinion and of individual
fame — to pervert literature, from being the natural ally of freedom
and humanity, into an engine of priestcraft and despotism, and to
undermine the spirit of the English constitution and the independence
of the English character. The Editor and his friends systematically
explode every principle of liberty, laugh patriotism and public spirit
to scorn, resent every pretence to integrity as a piece of singularity or
insolence, and strike at the root of all free inquiry or discussion, by
running down every writer as a vile scribbler and a bad member of
society, who is not a hireling and a slave. No means are stuck at in
accomplishing this laudable end. Strong in patronage, they trample
on truth, justice, and decency. They claim the privilege of court-
favourites. They keep as little faith with the public, as with their
opponents. No statement in the Quarterly Review is to be trusted :
there is no fact that is not misrepresented in it, no quotation that is
not garbled, no character that is not slandered, if it can answer the
purposes of a party to do so. The weight of power, of wealth,
of rank is thrown into the scale, gives its impulse to the machine ;
and the whole is under the guidance of Mr. Gilford's instinctive
genius — of the in-born hatred of servility for independence, of dulness
for talent, of cunning and impudence for truth and honesty. It costs
him no effort to execute his disreputable task — in being the tool of
a crooked policy, he but labours in his natural vocation. He patches
up a rotten system as he would supply the chasms in a worm-eaten
manuscript, from a grovelling incapacity to do any thing better ;
• I tinks that if a single iota in the claims of prerogative and power were
lost, the whole fabric of society would fall upon his head and crush
him ; and calculates that his best chance for literary reputation is by


black-balling one half of the competitors as Jacobins and levellers, and
securing the suffrages of the other half in his favour as a loyal subject
and trusty partisan !

Mr. Gifford, as a satirist, is violent and abrupt. He takes obvious
or physical defects, and dwells upon them with much labour and
harshness of invective, but with very little wit or spirit. He expresses
a great deal of anger and contempt, but you cannot tell very well why
— except that he seems to be sore and out of humour. His satire is
mere peevishness and spleen, or something worse — personal antipathy
and rancour. We are in quite as much pain for the writer, as for the
object of his resentment. His address to Peter Pindar is laughable
from its outrageousness. He denounces him as a wretch hateful to
God and man, for some of the most harmless and amusing trifles that
ever were written — and the very good-humour and pleasantry of
which, we suspect, constituted their oifence in the eyes of this Draw-
cansir. — His attacks on Mrs. Robinson were unmanly, and even those
on Mr. Merry and the Della-Cruscan School were much more
ferocious than the occasion warranted. A little affectation and
quaintness of style did not merit such severity of castigation. 1 As a
translator, Mr. Gifford's version of the Roman satirist is the baldest,
and, in parts, the most offensive of all others. We do not know why he
attempted it, unless he had got it in his head that he should thus follow
in the steps of Dryden, as he had already done in those of Pope in
the Baviad and Maeviad. As an editor of old authors, Mr. (
is entitled to considerable praise for the pains he has taken in revising
the text, and for some improvements he has introduced into it. He
had better have spared the notes, in which, though he has detected
the blunders of previous commentators, he has expose. * his own
ill-temper and narrowness of feeling more. As a critic, he has
thrown no light on the character and spirit of his authors. He has
shown no striking power of analysis nor of original illustration,
though he has chosen to exercise his pen on writers most congenial to
his own turn of mind, from their dry and caustic vein ; Ma
and Ben Jonson. What he will make of Marlowe, it is difficult to
guess. He has none of < the fiery quality ' of the poet. Mr. Gifford
does not take for his motto on these occasions — Spiritus precip
est ! — His most successful efforts in this way are barely reBpe
In general, his observations are petty, ill-concocted, and discover as
little tact, as they do a habit of connected reasoning. Thus, for
instance, in attempting to add the name of Massinger to the 1
Catholic poets, our minute critic insists on the profusion of crucifixes,

1 Mr. Merry was even with our author in personality of abuse. Sec hi. Li
on the Story of the Ape that was given in charge to the ex-tutor.

7 291


glories, angelic visions, garlands of roses, and clouds of incense
scattered through the Virgin- Martyr, as evidence of the theological
sentiments meant to be inculcated by the play, when the least reflection
might have taught him, that they proved nothing but the author's
poetical conception of the character and costume of his subject.
A writer might, with the same sinister, short-sighted shrewdness, be
accused of Heathenism for talking of Flora and Ceres in a poem on
the Seasons ! What are produced as the exclusive badges and occult
proofs of Catholic bigotry, are nothing but the adventitious ornaments
and external symbols, the gross and sensible language, in a word, the
poetry of Christianity in general. What indeed shows the frivolousness
of the whole inference is that Deckar, who is asserted by our critic
to have contributed some of the most passionate and fantastic of these
devotional scenes, is not even suspected of a leaning to Popery. In
like manner, he excuses Massinger for the grossness of one of his
plots (that of the Unnatural Combat) by saying that it was supposed
to take place before the Christian era ; by this shallow common-place
persuading himself, or fancying he could persuade others, that the
crime in question (which yet on the very face of the story is made
the ground of a tragic catastrophe) was first made statutory by the
Christian religion.

The foregoing is a harsh criticism, and may be thought illiberal.
But as Mr. Gifford assumes a right to say what he pleases of others
— they may be allowed to speak the truth of him !


The Quarterly Review arose out of the Edinburgh, not as a corollary,
but in contradiction to it. An article had appeared in the latter on
Don Pedro Cevallos, which stung the Tories to the quick by the free
way in which it spoke of men and things, and something must be
done to check these escapades of the Edinburgh. It was not to be
endured that the truth should out in this manner, even occasionally
and half in jest. A startling shock was thus given to established
prejudices, the mask was taken off from grave hypocrisy, and the
most serious consequences were to be apprehended. The persons
who wrote in this Review seemed 'to have their hands full of truths,'
and now and then, in a fit of spleen or gaiety, let some of them fly ;
md while this practice continued, it was impossible to say that the
Monarchy or the Hierarchy was safe. Some of the arrows glanced,
others might stick, and in the end prove fatal. It was not the
principles of the Edinburgh Review, but the spirit that was looked at


with jealousy and alarm. The principles were by no means decidedly
hostile to existing institutions : but the spirit was that of fair and tree
discussion ; a field was open to argument and wit ; every question
was tried upon its own ostensible merits, and there was no foul play.
The tone was that of a studied impartiality (which many called
trimming) or of a sceptical indifference. This tone of impartiality
indifference, however, did not at all suit those who profited or existed
by abuses, who breathed the very air of corruption. They know
well enough that * those who are not for them are against them.'
They wanted a publication impervious alike to truth and candour ;
that, hood-winked itself, should lead public opinion blindfold ; that
should stick at nothing to serve the turn of a party ; that should be the
exclusive organ of prejudice, the sordid tool of power ; that should go
the whole length of want of principle in palliating every dishonest
measure, of want of decency in defaming every honest man ; that should
prejudge every question, traduce every opponent ; that should give
no quarter to fair inquiry or liberal sentiment ; that should be ' ugly
all over with hypocrisy,' and present one foul blotch of servility,
intolerance, falsehood, spite, and ill manners. The Quarterly Review
was accordingly set up.

' Sithence no fairy lights, no quickning ray,
Nor stir of pulse, nor object to entice
Abroad the spirits ; but the cloister'd heart
Sits squat at home, like Pagod in a niche
Obscure ! '

This event was accordingly hailed (and the omen has been fulfilled! )
as a great relief to all those of his Majesty's subjects who are firmly
convinced that the only way to have things remain exactly as they
are is to put a stop to all inquiries whether they are right or wrong,
and that if you cannot answer a man's arguments, you may at least
try to take away his character.

We do not implicitly bow to the political opinions, nor to the
critical decisions of the Edinburgh Review ; but we must do justice
to the talent with which they are supported, and to the tone of manly
explicitness in which they are delivered. 1 They are eminently
characteristic of the Spirit of the Age ; as it is the express object
of the Quarterly Review to discountenance and extinguish that spirit,
both in^theory and practice. The Edinburgh Review stands upon
the ground of opinion; it asserts the supremacy of intellect: the

1 The style of philosophical criticism, which has been the boast of the
Edinburgh Review, was first introduced into the Monthly Review about the year
1-06, in a series of articles by Mr. William Taylor, of Norwich.



pre-eminence it claims is from an acknowledged superiority of talent
and information and literary attainment, and it does not build one
tittle of its influence on ignorance, or prejudice, or authority, or
personal malevolence. It takes up a question, and argues it pro and
con with great knowledge and boldness and skill ; it points out an
absurdity, and runs it down, fairly, and according to the evidence
adduced. In the former case, its conclusions may be wrong, there
may be a bias in the mind of the writer, but he states the arguments
and circumstances on both sides, from which a judgment is to be
formed — it is not his cue, he has neither the effrontery nor the
meanness to falsify facts or to suppress objections. In the latter
case, or where a vein of sarcasm or irony is resorted to, the ridicule
is not barbed by some allusion (false or true) to private history; the
object of it has brought the infliction on himself by some literary
folly or political delinquency which is referred to as the understood
and justifiable provocation, instead of being held up to scorn as a
knave for not being a tool, or as a blockhead for thinking for him-
self. In the Edinburgh Review the talents of those on the opposite
side are always extolled pleno ore — in the Quarterly Review they are
denied altogether, and the justice that is in this way withheld from
them is compensated by a proportionable supply of personal abuse.
A man of genius who is a lord, and who publishes with Mr. Murray,
may now and then stand as good a chance as a lord who is not a
man of genius and who publishes with Messrs. Longman : but that
it the utmost extent of the impartiality of the Quarterly. From its
account you would take Lord Byron and Mr. Stuart Rose for two
very pretty poets ; but Mr. Moore's Magdalen Muse is sent to
Bridewell without mercy, to beat hemp in silk-stockings. In the

rterly nothing is regarded but the political creed or external
circumstances of a writer; in the Edinburgh nothing is ever adverted
to but his literary merits. Or if there is a bias of any kind, it arises
from an affectation of magnanimity and candour in giving heaped
measure to those on the aristocratic side in politics, and in being
critically severe on others. Thus Sir Walter Scott is lauded to the

I for his romantic powers, without any allusion to his political
demerits (as if this would be compromising the dignity of genius
and of criticism by the introduction of party-spirit) — while Lord

on is called to a grave moral reckoning. There is, however,
little of the cant of morality in the Edinburgh Review — and it is
quite free from that of religion. It keeps to its province, which

Online LibraryWilliam HazlittLectures on the English poets : [and] The spirit of the age; or contemporary portraits. → online text (page 31 of 38)