« PreviousContinue »
was regarded as belonging rather to the provincial than to either the national or the metropolitan literature of the time. In the Della Cruscan school the thing came to a head. “ In 1785," as the matter is recorded in the Introduction to the Baviad and Mæviad, “ a few English of both sexes, whom chance had jumbled together at Florence, took a fancy to while away their time in scribbling high-flown panegyrics on themselves; and complimentary canzonettas on two or three Italians, who understood too little of the language in which they were written to be disgusted with them.” Among them were Mrs. Piozzi, the widow of Johnson's friend Thrale, now the wife of her daughter's music-master; Mr. Bertie Greathead, a man of property and good family ; Mr. Robert Merry, who specially took to himself the designation of Della Crusca ; Mr. William Parsons, another English gentleman of fortune; &c. These people first printed a volume of their rhymes under the title of The Florence Miscellany. Afterwards they and a number of other persons, their admirers and imitators, began to publish their lucubrations in England, chiefly in two new daily newspapers, called The World and The Oracle ; from which they were soon collected, and recommended with vast laudation to the public attention, in a volume entitled The Album, by Bell the printer. “ While the epidemic malady was spreading from fool to fool,” continues Gifford, “Della Crusca came over, and immediately announced himself by a sonnet to Love. Anna Matilda wrote an incomparable piece of nonsense in praise of it; and the two “great luminaries of the age, as Mr. Bell calls them, fell desperately in love with each other. From that period not a day passed without an amatory epistle, fraught with lightning and thunder, et quicquid habent telorum armamentaria coeli. The fever turned to a frenzy: Laura Maria, Carlos, Orlando, Adelaide, and a thousand other nameless names caught the infection ; and, from one end of the kingdom to the other, all was nonsense and Della Crusca.” After this had gone on for some time, Gifford took up
pen, and in 1794 produced his Baviad, which in 1796 was followed by its continuation, the Mæviad. It is only in these two poems that the memory of most of the unhappy Della Cruscan songsters has been preserved, – an immortality which may be compared with that conferred by the Newgate Calendar. We may transfer to our historic page the principal names, in addition to those already mentionea, that figure in these celebrated satires, adding a few par
ticulars as to some of them gleaned from other sources. A few of the writers, we may remark, that got bespattered in the course of Gifford's somewhat energetic horse-play, have survived and recovered from his corrosive mud and any connection they may have had with the Della Cruscan folly:- such as the dramatists O'Keefe, Morton, Reynolds, and Holcroft; the younger Colman, who had already, in 1795, produced his Sylvester Daggerwood, besides other dramatic pieces; Mrs. Cowley, the clever authoress of The Belle's Stratagem; and no less a person than the prince of biographers, James Boswell, of whose Johnsonianism, however, people in general as yet discerned only the ludicrous excess ; — not to speak of such rather more than respectable rhymers as Edward Jerningham, the author of numerous plays and poems ; Miles Peter Andrews, noted for his prologues and epilogues, which were occasionally lively as well as rattling; and perhaps we ought also to add, in a proper spirit of gallantry, the somewhat too famous Mrs. Robinson, who, with all her levity, intellectual as well as moral, was not without some literary talent and poetical feeling. Mrs. Piozzi, too, of course, though not the wisest of women, must be held to have been by no means all ignorance and pretension. But the general herd of the Della Cruscans may be safely set down as having been mere blatant blockheads. Of some of the fictitious signatures quoted by Gifford we find no interpretation : such as Arno, Cesario, Julia, &c. Others of the names he mentions are real names. Topham, for instance, is Mr. Edward Topham, the proprietor of The World ; “ monosoph Este,” as he calls him, is the Rev. Charles Este, principal editor of that paper; Weston is Joseph Weston, a small magazine critic of the day. Two of the minor offenders, to whom he deals a lash or two in passing, are James Cobbe, a now forgotten farce-writer; and Frederick Pilon, who was, we believe, a player by profession. The most conspicuous names, besides Merry and Greathead, are Mit Yenda, or Mot Yenda, stated to be the
anagram of a Mr. Timothy or Thomas Adney, of whom we know nothing; Edwin, which stands for a Mr. Thomas Vaughan, the same person, we suppose, who wrote a farce called The Hotel, and one or two other things of the same sort, about twenty years
1 Much new light has been lately thrown on the life and character of this famous lady by Mr. Hayward's two lively and amusing volumes, entitled, Autobiography, Letters, and Literary Remains of Mrs. Piozzi (Thrale), Lon. 1861. See, also, for 4 view of some parts of the subject different from that of Mr. Hayward, the article on his book in the Edinburgh Review for April, 1861.
before this time; and especially Tony or Anthony Pasquin, the
guerre of a John Williams, the author of loads both of verse and prose. If we may judge by a collection of the Poems, as they are called, of this Williams, or Pasquin, published, in two volumes, in 1789,— a second edition, with a long list of subscribers, sparkling with titled names, - Gifford's representation of the emptiness, feebleness, and sounding stupidity of the Della Cruscans is no exaggeration at all. Nothing, certainly, was ever printed on decent paper more worthless and utterly despicable in every way than this poetry of the great Anthony Pasquin, who, in quite a lofty and patronizing style, dedicates one of his volumes to Mr. Pitt, and the other in part to Sir Joshua Reynolds, in part to Warren Hastings (so economically does he distribute the precious honor); — who has all these three distinguished persons among his subscribers, in company with most of the rank and eminence of the time; and whom his friends and admirers, West Dudley Digges, W. Whitby of Cambridge, Thomas Bellamy, Frederick Pilon, William Upton, and J. Butler, — all, he tells us, “ of high estimation in the world of literature,” in a series of introductory odes and other rhyming laudations, extol as another Martial and Juvenal combined, the reformer of the age, the scourge of folly, — animating the just criticism of Persius with a brighter fire than Churchill's, “ at once the Pride and Terror of the Land,” — a Dryden come to life again, — the greatest wit since Butler, - a giant, magnanimous and proud, fit only to contend with giants. “Our children's children,” exclaims Dudley Digges,
“Our children's children o'er thy honoured dust
Shall raise the sculptured tomb and laureled bust;
While the big tears in gushing torrents flow !” - Resistless bard!” Pilon breaks out, —
“by every science owned,
your own." But far beyond this is the fine frenzy of William Upton. “Pasquin!” roars out this idiot striving to get in a passion,
“ Pasquin! Can nought thy daring pen impede,
Or stem the venom of thy critic gall?
Shall thy effusions make whole legions bleed,
And thou sit smiling as their numbers fall ?
“ By heaven! I'll probe thee to the heart's warm core,
If Thespis hurl again his satire round,
To bring, by strength Samsonian, to the ground !
“ For know, that giants should with giants vie,” &c. And afterwards,
“ Imperious tyrant, doth my threats affright
Thy yet ungoverned and undaunted soul ?
Such as when Paris lovely Helen stole ? ” So much for contemporary praise — at least when estimated by the number and vehemence rather than by the true worth and authority of the voices ! This man Upton, too, had published at least one volume of rhymes of his own, and no doubt was considered by many others as well as by himself to be one of the poetical luminaries of the age. The frantic insipidities we have quoted, however, may serve to give a right notion of the whole of this singular phenomenon of what the Della Cruscan poetry was, and also of the nature and extent of the celebrity and admiration which it for a time enjoyed. Of course, it could not deceive the higher order of cultivated minds; but even in what is called the literary world there are always numbers of persons easily imposed upon as to such matters, and at the same time favorably placed for imposing upon others; poetical antiquaries, editors, and commentators, for example, who, naturally enough, take themselves, and are taken by the multitude, to be the best judges of the article which it seems to be in a manner their trade to deal in, but who, in truth, for the most part do not know good poetry from bad, or from no poetry at all. Witness the manner in which about this very time some of the most laborious of the Shakspearian commentators, and other literati of high name, were taken in by the miserable forgeries of Ireland. No wonder, then, that Tony Pasquin too had his literary as well as fashionable admirers. No doubt his chief acceptance, and that of the other Della Cruscan warblers, male and female, was with what is (or rather was, for the phrase in that sense is now gone out) called the town - in other words, the mere popu
lace of the reading world, whose voice is not, and cannot be, more potential for any enduring effect than that of any other mob; yet the discreditable infatuation — the parallel of that of Queen Titania for Bottom the weaver, with his ass's head —
I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again :
Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note might have lasted considerably longer, and even spread farther than it did, had it not been checked by Gifford's vigorous exposure and castigation. He himself intimates, in the Preface to the Mæviad, that he had been charged with breaking butterflies upon a wheel ; but “ many a man,” he adds, “ who now affects to pity me for wasting my strength upon unresisting imbecility, would, not long since, have heard their poems with applause, and their praises with delight.” On the other hand, their great patron, Bell, the printer, accused him of “bespattering nearly all the poetical eminence of the day.” “ But, on the whole,” he says, “ the clamour against me was not loud ; and was lost by insensible degrees in the applause of such as I was truly ambitious to please. ported, the good effects of the satire (gloriose loquor) were not long in manifesting themselves. Della Crusca appeared no more in the Oracle, and, if any of his followers ventured to treat the town with a soft sonnet, it was not, as before, introduced by a pompous preface. Pope and Milton resumed their superiority; and Este and his coadjutors silently acquiesced in the growing opinion of their incompetency, and showed some sense of shame.”
THE SHAKSPEARE PAPERS.
Of the forgeries of William Henry Ireland it is only necessary to record that, after the pretended old parchments had been exhibited for some months in Norfolk Street, where they were beheld and perused with vast reverence and admiration by sundry eminent scholars and critics, their contents were printed in December, 1795, in a magnificent two-guinea folio, published by subscription among the believers, with the title of Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments, under the hand and seal of William Shakespeare,