« PreviousContinue »
including the Tragedy of King Lear, and a small fragment of Hamlet, from the original MSS. ; that the professed editor was Samuel Ireland, the father of the fabricator; that the tragedy of Kynge Vorrtygerne, an additional piece of manufacture from the same workshop, was brought out at Drury Lane in March following; that Malone’s conclusive Inquiry into the Authenticity of the papers appeared just in time to herald that performance ; that young Ireland himself the same year acknowledged the imposition (at the same time acquitting his father of all share in it) in his Authentic Account of the Shakspeare Manuscripts (afterwards extended in his Confessions relative to the Shakspeare Forgery, published in 1805); and that, notwithstanding all this, George Chalmers came out in 1797, with An Apology for the Believers, which he followed up with another thick octavo, entitled A Supplemental Apology, two years after. Malone's exposure, founded entirely on evidence external to the merits of the poetry thus impudently attributed to Shakspeare, was, as we have said, demonstrative enough; but it ought not to have been required : the wretched rubbish should have been its own sufficient refutation. Vortigern, indeed, was damned, after Malone had sounded his catcall; but that persons occupying such positions in the literary world as Pye, the poet-laureate, Boswell, John Pinkerton, George Chalmers, Dr. Parr, &c., should have mistaken, as they did, the poetry of Ireland for that of Shakspeare, could only have happened in a time in which there was very little true feeling generally diffused, even among persons to whom the public naturally looked up for guidance in such matters, either of Shakspeare or of poetry. The Della Cruscan poetry had its proper and natural sequel in the Shakspeare papers.
THE PURSUITS OF LITERATURE.
CONTEMPORANEOUSLY with Gifford's Baviad and Mæviad appeared another remarkable satirical poem, The Pursuits of Literature, now known to have been written by the late Thomas James Mathias, the author of many other pieces both in verse and prose (among the rest, of a number of poetical compositions in Italian, published in the latter part of his life), although, we believe, it never was
publicly acknowledged by him. The First Part, or Dialogue, of the Pursuits of Literature came out in May, 1794; the Second and Third together, in May, 1796; the Fourth and last in July, 1797. The Four Dialogues were collected and republished together in January, 1798 : this is called the fifth edition ; before the end of the same year two more editions had been called for ; and that before us, dated 1805, is numbered the thirteenth. which consists in all of only between 1500 and 1600 lines, spread over a volume of 450 pages, takes a general survey both of the literature and politics of its day ; but the interest of the work lies chiefly in the prose prefaces and notes, the quantity of which amounts to about ten times that of the verse. And, in truth, the prose is in every way the cleverest and most meritorious part of the performance. Mathias's gift of song was not of a high order; his poetry is of the same school with Gifford's, but the verse of the Pursuits of Literature has neither the terseness and pungency nor the occasional dignity and elegance which make that of the Baviad and Mæviad so successful an echo of Pope the common master of both writers. The notes, however, though splenetic, and avowing throughout a spirit of the most uncompromising partisanship, are written with a sharp pen, as well as in a scholarly style, and, in addition to much Greek and Latin learning, contain a good deal of curious disquisition and anecdote. Most of the literary and political notorieties, great and small, of that day, are noticed by the author, — himself not excepted ;1 and it is interesting and amusing to look back from this distance, and to remark how time has dealt with the several names introduced, and what final judgments she has passed on his likings and dislikings.
OTHER SATIRICAL POETRY. - MASON. THE ROLLIAD. PRO
BATIONARY ODES. PETER PINDAR.
This may be said to have been especially the age of literary and political satire in England. Most of it, however, was in a
1 See a note on line 151 of Dialogue First, where mention is made of “Mr. Mathias's candid and comprehensive Essay” on Rowley's poems (written in defence of their authenticity).
lighter style than the Pursuits of Literature or the Baviad and Mæviad. These poems were the energetic invectives of Juvenal and Persius after the more airy ridicule of Horace. Perhaps the liveliest and happiest of all the quick succession of similar jeux d'esprit that appeared from the first unsettlement of the power and supremacy of Lord North to the termination of the war of parties by the firm establishment of the premiership of Pitt, was Richard Tickell's Anticipation, published a few days before the meeting of parliament in November, 1778. It was an anticipation of the king's speech and the coming debates on it in the two Houses ; and so much to the life was each noble lord and honorable member hit off, that, it is said, they one after another, to the infinite amusement of their hearers, fell in their actual orations into the forms of expression and modes of argument and illustration that had been assigned to them, only drifting the faster and the farther in that direction the more they strove to take another
Poor Tickell, the grandson of Addison's friend, Thomas Tickell, after making the town merry by other sportive effusions both in prose and verse, put an end to his life by throwing himself from his bedroom-window at Hampton Court Palace in November, 1793. The Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers, with its Heroic Postscript, and the Odes to Dr. Shebbeare, to Sir Fletcher Norton, &c., which appeared in 1782 under the name of Malcolm MacGregor, of Knightsbridge, Esq., and are now known to have been the productions of the poet Mason, have been already noticed. A fortunate subject did as much perhaps for the first and most celebrated of these pieces as any remarkable merit there was in its execution ; the verses would have needed to be golden indeed to give any extraordinary value to so short a performance. The Heroic Epistle is only an affair of 146 lines, with a few slight prose notes. But, although Sir William's Oriental principles of gardening afforded matter for solemn ridicule which it was impossible for him to fail in turning to some account, Mason had more spite than wit, and his wordy, labored verse is for the most part rather insolent than caustic. The next political satire that made much noise at the time, and is still remembered, was the famous Rolliad, which appeared in a series of papers in the latter part of 1784 and beginning of 1785, immediately after the great struggle between Pitt and the Coalition. The Rolliad - so named after the late Lord Rolle, then Colonel John Rolle, one of the members for Devon
shire, and a stanch adherent to the party of Pitt and the Court – was a volley of prose and verse from the side of the defeated Coalition. One of the persons principally concerned in it is understood to have been the eminent civilian, Dr. French Lawrence, Burke's friend; another is believed to have been the late George Ellis, the author of the Specimens of the Early English Poets, &c. Its tone and manner are jocular; but it is easy to see that the writers were at heart not a little angry, and that they were bent on doing mischief. The satire is daringly personal and not unfrequently coarse, going to a much greater length in both ways than our present manners would allow. The vindictive spirit out of which it comes, too, is shown both by the pertinacity with which the more eminent victims are again and again attacked, and by the eagerness with which the smaller game also are hunted down and torn to pieces. Nobody escapes, from the new premier down to the most nameless among his retainers. Yet all this is done, as we have said, with much gayety and laughter; and the epigrams are often as brilliant as they are stinging and exasperating. The Rolliad was followed, first by a small volume of Political Eclogues, and then by the Probationary Odes for the Laureateship, published after the election of Thomas Warton to that office on the vacancy occasioned by the death of William Whitehead. The Odes, which are supposed to be recited by their respective authors before the Lord Chamberlain, assisted by his friend Mr. Delpini, of the Haymarket Theatre, whom his lordship had sent for to serve as a guide to his inexperience in such matters, are assigned to Sir Cecil Wray, a not very literary M. P., the established butt of the Whig wits of those days
-(“ the words by Sir Cecil Wray, Bart., the spelling by Mr. Grojan, attorney-at-law,” is the title); to Lord Mulgrave, a member of the new administration, and the author of a Voyage to the North Pole, as well as of various fugitive pieces in not the soberest verse; to Sir Joseph Mawbey, another ministerial M. P., who appears to have dealt, not in poetry, but in pigs; to Sir Richard Hill, the methodistical baronet, brother of Rowland, the well-known preacher, and said to be given to the same kind of pious jocularity in his speeches with which Rowland used to enliven his sermons; to James Macpherson, the translator or author of Ossian, who was also at this time a member of the House of Commons (sitting as one of the representatives of the Nabob of Arcot); to Mason, the poet; to the Attorney-General, R. T. Arden (afterwards Lord
Alvanley); to Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, already famous for having. as it was said, run over all the countries of.the world, and learned nothing but their names; to Sir Gregory Page Turner, another loyal baronet and M. P.; to Michael Angelo Taylor, M.P.; to Major John Scott, Warren Hastings's chief agent and champion in the House of Commons; to Harry Dundas (in Scotch); to Dr. Joseph Warton, “in humble imitation of Brother Thomas”; to Viscount Mountmorres (in Hibernian English); to the Lord Chancellor Thurlow; to the Rev. Dr. Prettyman (Pitt's tutor, afterwards Bishop of Winchester), the prose notes to whose irregular strains, “except those wherein Latin is concerned,” are stated to be by John Robinson, Esq., the notorious “ Jack Robinson,” in popular repute the well-rewarded and unscrupulous doer of all work for all administrations; to the Marquis of Graham (the late Duke of Montrose); to Lord Mountmorres (a second attempt, in English); to Sir George Howard, K. B. (afterwards Field Marshal); to Dr. Markham, Archbishop of York; and to Warton himself, the successful candidate. The Probationary Odes proceeded from the same manufactory as the Rolliad; and they are at least equally spirited and successful. Indeed, the humor, we should say, is richer as well as brighter and freer in its flow, an effect owing partly perhaps to the form of the composition, which is not so solemn and rigid, but somewhat, also, probably, to the writers being in a kindlier mood, and less disposed to give pain to the objects of their satire. Except in a small collection of Political Miscellanies in the same style, which appeared shortly afterwards, the muse of the Rolliad and the Probationary Odes was, as far as is known, heard no more; but another mocking spirit, not to be so soon silenced, was already in the air, and beginning to “syllable men's names” in a very peculiar accent, at once singularly comic and biting. Dr. John Wolcot, formerly a preacher to a congregation of negroes in Jamaica, now settled in London as a physician, made his first appearance as Peter Pindar in his Lyric Odes [fifteen in number] to the Royal Academicians, for 1782. The style and manner of these compositions, coarse and careless enough, but full of drollery and pungency, and quite original, seems to have taken the public fancy at once. Some attention also their author would have had a right to, had it been merely for the soundness of some of his remarks, and his evident knowledge of his subject; for Wolcot, who when practising medicine at Truro had discovered