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A GRAYBEARD'S GOSSIP ABOUT HIS LITERARY
Forsan et hæc olim meminisse juvabit.
Edward Dubois, Author of “ My Pocket Book”-Sir John Carr, the Book
sellers’ Traveller-John and Leigh Hunt-Claim of the latter to national Compensation-Mr. Cary, the Translator of Dante-Letter from Mr. Rogers.
In the last year of the last century, when my classical tastes were yet unsatiated, I had bought and perused, with no small gratification, an octavo volume, entitled “The Wreath: composed of Selections from Sappho, Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, accompanied by a Prose Translation, with Notes, and a Comparison between Horace and Lucian. By Edward Dubois.” As the notes displayed great erudition and research, involving a critical knowledge of the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew languages, I fully expected when apprised that I was to meet the author, on my first visit to Hill's cottage at Sydenham, to encounter an elderly Scholasticus of the Parr and Porson school, gravely loud and dogmatical in the display of his lore, and sacrificing very little to the Graces, either personal or social. Guess my surprise when I beheld a young, gaylooking, soft-spoken wag, whose ever-ready and ever-pungent wit supplied constant amusement to the party, while his quiet chuckle showed that he had a quick appreciation of the same quality in others. My friend, who is still living (and long may he live!), in the honourable discharge of his official duties, must forgive me the few words that I have actually penned, in consideration of the very many that I might have written in his praise : but I may be permitted to record my regret that the severing tide of life has wafted us so long and so far apart.
Mr. Dubois became subsequently better known to the world by the publication of “My Pocket Book," a satirical jeu d'esprit in ridicule of Sir John Carr's trashy travels entitled “ The Stranger in Ireland-A Northern Tour-A Tour through Holland, &c.;" works produced, as he himself had admitted, by the assistance of a vade mecum “pocket book," in which he dotted down every thing that he saw or heard, however unimportant or questionable. This locomotive gentleman, who had obtained two titles in Ireland, for the lord-lieutenant had knighted him, and the people had named him the jaunting Carr, was neither more nor less than a speculative traveller for whatever publisher who would engage him, his mode of getting up books being thus described by a contemporary critic;“ He goes abroad about the end of summer ; visits some country in a hasty and superficial manner; returns with his notes, and by the help of Shakspeare for quotations, Joe Miller for anecdotes, and some of the travelling guides for trifling information, he makes a quarto volume, which is in the shops at the proper period of the ensuing book season. Of his skill in the bathos the following short extract may form a notion ;“ The evening, shrouded in black clouds charged with rain, rapidly set in, and only the light blue smoke of the cabin relieved the universally deep embrowned sterility of the scene.
In these and most other districts the • Edinburgh Review, vol. X., p. 271.
milk of sheep is used.” Such a jejune writer, trusting to his memory for his stale jests; to coachmen, peasants, and similar authorities for his frivolous facts, and narrating them in a style equally turgid and empty, presented a temptation to burlesque which a keen observer, with an acute sense of the ridiculous, and a rich vein of wit and humour, could hardly be expected to resist. Such a man was the author of “My Pocket Book,” which being filled to overflow with pungent satire, and illustrated with grotesque engravings, convulsed the town with laughter, and put the unfortunate tourist completely out of countenance, and out of the court of literature.
A bookseller who had engaged him for his next trip and quarto, alarmed at the sudden extinction of his popularity, refused to fulfil the contract, and Sir John having thus established a case of pecuniary loss, brought an action for damages against the publisher of the burlesque which had shown his head to be empty, and had reduced his purse to the same state. The judge—Lord Ellenborough, if I mistake notmaintaining that no man could prevent being ridiculed, but that it depended upon himself whether or not he should be ridiculous, held the burlesque to be within the legal limits of literary and critical banter ; the plaintiff was nonsuited ; Sir John was saved the trouble of writing any more quarto travels; the public was spared the annoyance of reading them; the wit whose raillery had prevented any fresh issue of these namby-pamby volumes, was held to be a general benefactor ; and thus all parties were gainers.
Among the frequent guests at Hill's Sydenham gatherings, I have recorded the names of John and Leigh Hunt, both of whom, happily, are still living. Would that I could always have made the same record of my literary acquaintance, and thus have relieved these notices from the obituary character wherewith they have been hitherto saddened! Though not much of a boon companion, in the convivial acceptation of that term, John Hunt was an enlightened conversationist, ever ready to suggest, and ever competent to sustain discussion upon such subjects as might interest a patriot and a philanthropist. Calm, firm, upright, he reminded you Horace's “ Justum et tenacem propositi virum,” though perhaps his character might have found a better prototype in the republican, than in the imperial days, of Rome. His brother's social powers were not less varied than delightful. When it pleased him to follow his natural bent, and to indulge his playful imagination in "jest and youthful jollity,” I can confidently affirm that a merrier man
Within the limits of becoming mirth
I never spent an hour's talk withal, although, to my taste, he was seldom so attractive as when, accompanying himself on the piano, his fine, manly voice “ warbled immortal verse and Tuscan air.” Manifold and sore have been his trials since those early and halcyon days, but a mind like his, containing within itself a fountain of perennial youth and cheerfulness, repels the rust of time, and rendering its possessor independent of the blind goddess, enables him “ to scorn her smiles, and treat with smiles her scorning.” After thirty years of combined struggle and studiousness, his ever-buoyant philosophy has bated no jot of heart or hope ; a truly enviable result, which, as he tells us in the preface to his last charming work,* proceeds from the consciousness—"of
* Men, Women, and Books. 2 vols. Smith, Elder, & Co.
having done his best to recommend that belief in good, that cheerfulness in endeavour, that discernment of universal beauty, that brotherly consideration for mistake and circumstance, and that repose on the happy destiny of the whole human race, which appear to him not only the healthiest and most animating principles of action, but the only true religious homage to Him that made us all.”
Long had the public wondered, and well might they wonder, that the Whigs should have done nothing for an old and consistent partisan, whose talents and writings had benefited their cause as much, if not more, than those of any other individual ; who had unflinchingly adhered to them through good and evil report, untempted by the rich rewards that would have awaited his tergiversation; who had suffered heavy fines, long imprisonment, damage of health and fortune, persecution and abuse, mainly on account of his inflexible maintenance of Whig principles ; who had enriched the literature of his country by various productions of unquestioned excellence, and whose private character, after a life of painful struggles, remained free from reproach ; that nothing should have been done for such
a man, such a staunch adherent, such a victim, was widely felt to be a standing and most flagrant stigma upon the whole Whig party, who had twice, and for considerable periods, possessed the power of doing justice to his claims.
Well! after many a long and drudging year, after a protracted struggle with the res angusta domi, with waning health, and the hope deferred that maketh the heart sick, a conflict which would have embittered or crushed any spirit less kindly, brave, and self-sustained, an act of justice is wrung from the government, and a small annuity is granted to him. Though the Whigs so long forgot the proverb which predicts the fate of the steed which has to wait for the growing grass, it is not for me to lose sight of that other equine adage which forbids us to scrutinise the age of a gift horse. Cordial and unstinted, therefore, be our praises to Lord John Russell, not only for giving a judicious direction to the royal bounty, but for the graciousness of the self-gracing terms in which the recognition of his just claims was communicated to Mr. Leigh Hunt.
After this formal and sincere offering of homage, I may perhaps be allowed to remark, that if the public think themselves entitled to know why pensions are granted, they have an equal right to be informed why they are withheld, where the claims are both manifold and manifest. Upon the latter point the writer of these notices can furnish some little information. During the Melbourne administration he was assured by the late Lady Holland, when he was requesting the interference of Lord Holland in favour of Mr. Hunt, that his strong title to remuneration had been urged upon the attention of the premier, who, without disputing the validity of the case, objected that he could not ask the queen to sign a grant to a man who had been imprisoned and fined for a libel upon
her uncle. And this uncle, whose memory must not be treated with even an imaginary disrespect, so sweet is its savour in the nostrils of the people, was the notoriously foppish George the Fourth! And the libel consisted mainly in ridiculing the fulsome flattery of his parasites, by terming the idol whom they worshipped “an Adonis of fifty?” Why, there are names on the pension list of individuals who have lampooned the same august sovereign, in prose and verse, through whole octavos. Ay, cried the objectors, but they had never been fined and imprisoned for the offence. O precious
plea, right worthy of a Jesuit! So, then, justice is to be denied to a man who has suffered injustice; that which constitutes his claim is to be deemed a bar; because he was the victim of a former wrong, he is to be denied a present right. But he had been imprisoned reiterates some finical formalist. So was Galileo, and for an equally true assertion. If that great man were now living, would it be urged in refusal of his claim to compensation, that he had been iniquitously incarcerated? Is the disgrace of an unjust sentence to be transferred from the judge and jury to their victim?
Lord Melbourne was too clear-headed a person not to see the futility of the excuse he had pleaded, and too kind-hearted not to regret the necessity that drove him to it. But his government was weak; he was afraid of the outcry that would have been raised against the grant by his political opponents ; and he thought it better to sacrifice an individual, and do violence to his own feelings, than to endanger his party. Accustomed, as a Graybeard must be, to mark the apparently inappropriate dispensations of life, it still vexes me for a moment, when I see
Dilatory Fortune plays the jilt
To throw herself away on fools and knaves. Reflecting, however, that the goddess is blind, I become reconciled to her caprices. But I must confess that my rising gorge is not so easily allayed when a prime-minister, with eyes in his head, pursues the same course, compelling me to contrast the lavish bestowal of posts and pensions for inadequate services, with the niggardly spirit in which pittances are doled out to literary men, however eminent their talents, however irreproachable their character. Of this humiliating fact the recently published memoir of the Rev. H. F. Cary, the translator of Dante, affords a striking illustration. He had published a letter, inculpating the trustees of the British Museum ; he had addressed a sonnet to Lord Durham, on his return from Canada ; and on these pretences he was held (by a Whig government !) to have forfeited his title to a pension. Fortunately for the bard, fallen as he had into age and poverty, Mr. Rogers, who, during his long life, has never failed in generous donations and exertions to benefit his literary brethren, pleaded his cause in a letter to Lord Holland--a letter so honourable to the head and heart of the writer, and so apposite to the case of Leigh Hunt, that I cannot refrain from republishing a portion of it, although it has been already reprinted in the Examiner :
"Well, there he was--a man of great merit, great learning and genius, and in his old age without bread. Such, indeed, was his merit, such his learning and genius, such the cruelty of his case, that the trustees of the Museum went out of their way, opposite as most of them were to him in political sentiments, and recommended him as a proper object of bounty to the government, and yet nothing has been done !
“ Was the pension-list committee averse to such pensions? Quite otherwise, as I am assured by Lord John Russell.
" But he has written a sonnet. What had not Montgomery done, when Sir Robert Peel gave him what he did ? If Dryden and Johnson were now alive, and pouring forth toryism or bigotry, would not I serve them if I could ? Cary has now withdrawn his friendship from me. He thinks I was his enemy in this matter, but that shall not make me less anxious to render him
I have none. 6 Yours ever,
“ S. R. « • He is now slaving for the booksellers.'” The pension was finally granted, probably in consequence of this admirable and unanswerable letter.
To me, a firm believer in the destined improvement of our moral nature, it is ineffably grateful to perceive that the grant which Lord Melbourne was afraid to sanction, lest it should raise a factious cry of censure, has now been hailed with universal approbation. Thank Heaven! the spirit of the times, especially among the wielders of the pen, has lost much of its bitterness and acerbity. The field of literature, no longer an arena for political combats, is assuming the character of a neutral ground; of which melioration an incontestible proof is found in the high position which is at length assigned by all parties to Leigh Hunt as a writer, as well as by the profound and wide-spread sympathy which he has excited
a brave man struggling with the storms of fate.” From obvious motives of delicacy, my references to the survivors of my literary acquaintance have been generally so slight and cursory, that I feel an apology to be due to Mr. Hunt for bringing him thus prominently forward without his knowledge and concurrence ; but I was anxious to draw attention to the fact that no present or future minister need fear the bugbear that frightened Lord Melbourne ; but that, on the contrary, he would win golden opinions from all sorts of people, by extending the royal bounty to deserving men of literature, whatever may be their politics, and even in spite of their having suffered, in earlier life, an unjust incarceration, under the sentence of a tyrannous judge and a servile jury. Well do I feel assured that Mr. Hunt will excuse the liberty I have taken with his name, in consideration of the motives by which I have been actuated.