Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

Every reader will eagerly fall, upon the Preliminary Essay. And doubtless it will afford much to gratify all its readers- but will not be quite satisfactory to any one of them. It is much more valuable than the endeavours of former writers on the same subject; and supplies information which probably no other

person than the editor had the means of communicating; but it leaves us surmising and complaining that he has not communicated all he must possess. He tempts us to suspect that he is quite willing to keep the shrine of this mysterious object of idolatry in a measure of its darkness, that he may himself look the larger by standing a little way within the shade. In pursuing the inquiry, Who was Junius ? there appears a sort of affectation of arguing the question on the ground only of public evidence, or general probabilities, in one or two instances where we cannot help flattering him (and he doubtless wishes to be so flattered) by something near a belief that, in consequence of information received from his father, he could have adduced, if he had pleased, the more direct evidence of authority.

The Essay begins with some notice of that state of political affairs in the time of Junius which required such a writer, and justified his severity. Those times are briefly contrasted, in a political view, with the present. And this contrast gives a curious example of the benefit derived from the stíldy and admiration of Junius. For it represents that the English Constitution (meaning, as far as we can comprehend, that constitution of which it is of the very essence, according to all the old books, that there should be a real, uncorruptly elected representation of the people) was at that time in extreme peril

, and is at this time in triumphant security! With a mighty burst of grand-sounding words, (which will remind no one, we hope, of the din and the clang made by the Brahmins round the pile of a perishing victim,) this constitution is put in rivalry “ with the pyramids of Egypt." How much it is to be deplored that Junius could not have lived and retained all his powers to this happy time, to show us what those powers, so sovereign in the exposure of wickedness, and the prophecy of calamity, could perform in the way of eulogy and congratulation.

Some pages are employed in observations on the prominent distinctions of the celebrated letters; in acknowledging and excusing the excessive acrimony, the appearance of personal enmity, too visible in some parts of them; in describing the alarm and dismay they created among public offenders, up to the very highest order; and in asserting their beneficial operation, even to the present times, by the effect they had in determining some important questions respecting popular rights, especially the right of juries to consider the question of law as well as of fact. Then comes the inquiry which, even at this distance of time, retains so much of its

interest, who was Junius? And it is curious to observe, how populous would be the national Pantheon if all those who fancy themselves to be acquainted with individuals of supereminent talents, might be allowed to place in the assembly their respective idols. For we have here a list of no less than fourteen cotemporaries, each of whom has been believed, by many persons or by few, to be no other and no less than Junius. And this list does not include either Horne Tooke or Lord Chatham, to each of whom, however absurdly in the case of the former at least, some slight degree of suspicion has transiently attached. In the editor's opinion, all question relative to Lord Chatham would inevitably be set aside by the severe hostility manifested against that statesman, about the time of his obtaining a pension and title, in several letters signed Poplicola and Anti-Sejanus, sent to the Public Advertiser more than a year before the commencement of the series signed Junius, and which letters the editor inserts with a confident affirmation of their being by the same writer, and of their being the first received from him—an affirmation made in such terms that we conclude Mr. W. is warranted by more direct evidence than that afforded by the style and spirit of the letters. He might, however, just as well have said so. Any surmise of Lord Chatham's being the writer, would be repressed also by the expressions of dislike to hii in one of Junius's private communications to the printer, and by the slow and suspicious manner in which Junius suffered his lordship to grow considerably into his favour during the course of his letters.

The following are the names of the persons for whom pretensions have been made, and several of whom, it seems, would have been meanly gratified by their being admitted : Mr. Charles Lloyd, Mr. John Roberts, Mr. Samuel Dyer, Mr. Burke, Mr. W. G. Hamilton, commonly called Single Speech, Dr. Butler, Bishop of Hereford, Rev. Philip Rosenhagen, General Lee, Mr. Wilkes, Mr. Hugh Boyd, Mr. Dunning, afterwards Lord Ashburton, Mr. Flood, and Lord George Sackville. And the whole of the list appears to be included without ceremony in this sweeping sentence of the editor. “ While he does not undertake to communicate the real name of Junius, he pledges himself to prove, from incontrovertible evidence, afforded by the private letters of Junius himself during the period in question, in connexion with other documents, that not one of these pretenders has ever had the smallest right to the distinction which some of them have ardently coveted.” But this is very carelesly expressed; for there is one of the persons enumerated whose claims he has by no means invalidated, and evidently does not think he has : indeed he himself says "the evidence is indecisive."

A numerous series of notices and hints which he justly de

[ocr errors]

scribes as “ desultory," and which he plainly affirms to contain «the whole that the writer has been able to collect concerning the author of the Letters," authorizes, he thinks, the rejection of every claimant that does not answer to the following description.

From the observations contained in this essay, it should seem to follow unquestionably that the author of the Letters of Junius was an Englishman of highly cultivated education, deeply versed in the language, the laws, the constitution, and history of his native country: that he was a man of easy, if not affluent circumstances, of unsullied honour and generosity, who had it equally in his heart and in his power to contribute to the necessities of other persons, and especially of those who were exposed to troubles on his account: that he was in Habits of confidential intercourse, if not with different members of the cabinet, with politicians who were most intimately familiar with the court, and intrusted with all its secrets: that he had attained an age which would allow him, without vanity, to boast of an anuple knowledge and experience of the world: that during the years 1767, 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, and part of 1772, he resided almost constantly in London, or its vicinity, devoting a very large portion of his time to political concerns, and publishing his political lucubrations, under different signatures, in the Public Advertiser; that in his natural temper he was quick, irritable and impetuous; subject to political prejudices and strong personal animosities; but possessed of a high independent spirit; honestly attached to the principles of the constitution, and fearless and indefatigable in maintaining them; that he was strict in his moral conduct, and in his attention to public decorum; an avowed member of the established church, and, though acquainted with English judicature, not a lawyer by profession.” Preliminary Essay, p. 97.

This descriptive and historical sketch presents, to be sure, but few very marked points: the greater portion of it is easily drawn from the letters already before the public: some of the personal qualities are assumed on very slight authority: but the almost constant residence in or near London during the specified period, the strangely intimate acquaintance with the court and cabinet, the independence of the author's situation in life, and his honourable and generous disposition, are clearly manifested in his private correspondence with Woodfall. The two latter particulars are evident by his steady refusal, in a cool and easy manner, of any share of the emolument arising from the publication of the letters collectively, of which he was urged by Woodfall to accept a moiety, and by his voluntary pledge to indemnify this courageous printer for any pecuniary injury he might sustain in case of a prosecution. It is true it may be said he was not put to the test on this point; but there is an unaffected air of dignity and sincerity in his assurances which leaves no room for doubt.

[ocr errors]

Having laid down the law of qualifications, the editor proceeds to the trial of claims; and he makes very short work with the majority of them.

“ Of the first three of these reported authors of the letters, it will be sufficient to observe, without entering into any other fact whatever, that Lloyd (a clerk of the treasury, and afterwards a deputy teller of the exchequer) was on his death-bed at the date of the last of Junius's private letters, an essay which has sufficient proof of having been written in the possession of full health and spirits. While as to Roberts and Dyer, they had both been dead for many months anterior to this period.

A quick and final negative is put on any pretensions of Dr. Butler, Mr. Rosenhagen, and Wilkes. Indeed it was the idlest absurdity ever to mention the name of this last personage in this relation. The very positive declaration reported by an American friend of General Lee to have been made by that officer that he was the author of the Letters, leads the editor into some length and particularity of examination, the result of which perfectly falsifies the pretension. It is proved by a comparison of the dates of some of Lee's letters, published in a memoir of him, with those of the letters of Junius, that Lee was precisely no further from Woodfa!i's press than Poland, during the months in which some of the first of Junius's letters, though under a different signature, were appearing in the Public Advertiser. And it appears that he was rambling, with a peculiarly restless haste, somewhere on the Continent, during the time that those with the signature of Junius were appearing, sometimes at very short intervals, and accompanied by the underplot of a private correspondence with the printer, of a kind which indicates the interchange of notices, sometimes within a few hours, by conveyances to and from the bar of this or the other coffee-house. It is proved besides, from letters of Lee, that he was of opinions directly opposite to those of Junius, relative to some of the leading political men and measures of the times.

Mr. Single-Speech Hamilton has not hitherto, we believe, been absolutely and totally dismissed from all surmise of relationship to Junius; though, it seems, he constantly and even warmly disclaimed it himself, and though some of his most partial friends have disclaimed it for him. But is it not mightily curious and amusing, to hear both him and them sincerely protesting that the letters of Junius are of inferior ability and elegance to what said Single-Speech would have written! Should there be any persons, since the decease of Mr. Malone, still surviving to resent, for Hamilton's sake, a suspicion so disparaging to his talents, they may have the satisfaction of a full assurance that he was not Junius. In addition to arguments drawn by Mr. Malone from Hamilton's

having never been a zealous censurer of any political party or individual statesman-from his not having Junius's “ minute commissarial knowledge of petty military matters”—from the dissimilarity of his style and figures to those of the mysterious letterwriter, &c.-it is observed,

that Hamilton filled the office of chancellor of the exchequer in Ireland, from September, 1763, to April, 1787, during the very period in which all the letters of Junius appeared, and it will not very readily be credited by any one that this is likely to have been the exact quarter from which the writer of the letters in question fulminated his severe criminations against government. The subject moreover of parliamentary reform, for which Junius was so zealous an advocate, Mr. Malone expressly tells us was considered by Hamilton to be of so dangerous a tendency, that he once said to a friend, now living, that he would sooner suffer his right hand to be cut off than vote for it."

The only thing that fixed the suspicion on Hamilton, Mr. Woodfall observes, was his having “on a certain morning told the Duke of Richmond the substance of a letter of Juniưs, which he pretended to have just read in the Public Advertiser, but which, on consulting the Public Advertiser, was found not to appear there, an apology instead being offered for its postponement till the next day, when the letter thus previously adverted to by Hamilton did actually make its appearance.”. This fact, the editor informs us, was told him by the late Duke of Richmond himself; and he considers it as explained with a perfect probability by supposing that, as Hamilton was acquainted with the late Mr. Woodfall, and used to call sometimes at his office, the letter in question had been read to him, or its substance recited, by Mr. W. It is worth adding, that the fac-similes show not the slightest resemblance between the handwriting of Hamilton and of Junius.

What is humiliation to one man is matter of ambition to another. If the vanity of Mr. Single-Speech, and the folly of some of his friends, had so bubbled the estimate of his talents, as to make it almost a condescension as well as disingenuousness to have accepted the imputation of being Junius, it should seem that Mr. Hugh Boyd was, by the same imputation, flattered out of all power of maintaining an honest and firin disavowal. Though very few could be persuaded of his identity with Junius, and though scarcely one professed to perceive in his acknowledged writings the indications of any such measure of talent as that habitually displayed by Junius; yet this identity has been so confidently maintained by at least three writers, that Mr. Woodfall has been induced to employ as many as twenty pages in disposing of the claim; and he has disposed of it for ever. Indeed it proves to have rested on the

1

« AnteriorContinuar »