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Table-Talk, Essays on Men and Manners by William Hazlitt

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I sometimes had rather be without them. 'Leave, oh, leave me to my
repose!' I have just now other business in hand, which would seem idle
to you, but is with me 'very stuff o' the conscience.' Is not this wild
rose sweet without a comment? Does not this daisy leap to my heart set
in its coat of emerald? Yet if I wore to explain to you the
circumstance that has so endeared it to me, you would only smile. Had I
not better then keep it to myself, and let it serve me to brood over,
from here to yonder craggy point, and from thence onward to the
far-distant horizon? I should be but bad company all that way, and
therefore prefer being alone. I have heard it said that you may, when
the moody fit comes on, walk or ride on by yourself, and indulge your
reveries. But this looks like a breach of manners, a neglect of others,
and you are thinking all the time that you ought to rejoin your party.
'Out upon such half-faced fellowship,' say I. I like to be either
entirely to myself, or entirely at the disposal of others; to talk or be
silent, to walk or sit still, to be sociable or solitary. I was pleased
with an observation of Mr. Cobbett's, that 'he thought it a bad French
custom to drink our wine with our meals, and that an Englishman ought to
do only one thing at a time.' So I cannot talk and think, or indulge in
melancholy musing and lively conversation by fits and starts. 'Let me
have a companion of my way,' says Sterne, 'were it but to remark how the
shadows lengthen as the sun declines.' It is beautifully said; but, in
my opinion, this continual comparing of notes interferes with the
involuntary impression of things upon the mind, and hurts the sentiment.
If you only hint what you feel in a kind of dumb show, it is insipid:
if you have to explain it, it is making a toil of a pleasure. You
cannot read the book of nature without being perpetually put to the
trouble of translating it for the benefit of others. I am for this
synthetical method on a journey in preference to the analytical. I am
content to lay in a stock of ideas then, and to examine and anatomise
them afterwards. I want to see my vague notions float like the down of
the thistle before the breeze, and not to have them entangled in the
briars and thorns of controversy. For once, I like to have it all my
own way; and this is impossible unless you are alone, or in such company
as I do not covet. I have no objection to argue a point with any one
for twenty miles of measured road, but not for pleasure. If you remark
the scent of a bean-field crossing the road, perhaps your
fellow-traveller has no smell. If you point to a distant object,
perhaps he is short-sighted, and has to take out his glass to look at
it. There is a feeling in the air, a tone in the colour of a cloud,
which hits your fancy, but the effect of which you are unable to account
for. There is then no sympathy, but an uneasy craving after it, and a
dissatisfaction which pursues you on the way. and in the end probably
produces ill-humour. Now I never quarrel with myself, and take all my
own conclusions for granted till I find it necessary to defend them
against objections. It is not merely that you may not be of accord on
the objects and circumstances that present themselves before you--these
may recall a number of objects, and lead to associations too delicate
and refined to be possibly communicated to others. Yet these I love to
cherish, and sometimes still fondly clutch them, when I can escape from
the throng to do so. To give way to our feelings before company seems
extravagance or affectation; and, on the other hand, to have to unravel
this mystery of our being at every turn, and to make others take an
equal interest in it (otherwise the end is not answered), is a task to
which few are competent. We must 'give it an understanding, but no
tongue.' My old friend Coleridge, however, could do both. He could go
on in the most delightful explanatory way over hill and dale a summer's
day, and convert a landscape into a didactic poem or a Pindaric ode.
'He talked far above singing.' If I could so clothe my ideas in
sounding and flowing words, I might perhaps wish to have some one with
me to admire the swelling theme; or I could be more content, were it
possible for me still to hear his echoing voice in the woods of
All-Foxden.[1] They had 'that fine madness in them which our first
poets had'; and if they could have been caught by some rare instrument,
would have breathed such strains as the following:--

Here be woods as green
As any, air likewise as fresh and sweet
As when smooth Zephyrus plays on the fleet
Face of the curled streams, with flow'rs as many
As the young spring gives, and as choice as any;
Here be all new delights, cool streams and wells,
Arbours o'ergrown with woodbines, caves and dells;
Choose where thou wilt, whilst I sit by and sing,
Or gather rushes to make many a ring
For thy long fingers; tell thee tales of love,
How the pale Phoebe, hunting in a grove,
First saw the boy Endymion, from whose eyes
She took eternal fire that never dies;
How she convey'd him softly in a sleep,
His temples bound with poppy, to the steep
Head of old Latmos, where she stoops each night,
Gilding the mountain with her brother's light,
To kiss her sweetest.[2]

Had I words and images at command like these, I would attempt to wake
the thoughts that lie slumbering on golden ridges in the evening clouds:
but at the sight of nature my fancy, poor as it is, droops and closes up
its leaves, like flowers at sunset. I can make nothing out on the spot:
I must have time to collect myself.

In general, a good thing spoils out-of-door prospects: it should he
reserved for Table-talk. Lamb is for this reason, I take it, the worst
company in the world out of doors; because he is the best within. I
grant there is one subject on which it is pleasant to talk on a journey,
and that is, what one shall have for supper when we get to our inn at
night. The open air improves this sort of conversation or friendly
altercation, by setting a keener edge on appetite. Every mile of the
road heightens the flavour of the viands we expect at the end of it.
How fine it is to enter some old town, walled and turreted, just at
approach of nightfall, or to come to some straggling village, with the
lights streaming through the surrounding gloom; and then, after
inquiring for the best entertainment that the place affords, to 'take
one's ease at one's inn'! These eventful moments in our lives' history
are too precious, too full of solid, heartfelt happiness to be frittered
and dribbled away in imperfect sympathy. I would have them all to
myself, and drain them to the last drop: they will do to talk of or to
write about afterwards. What a delicate speculation it is, after
drinking whole goblets of tea--

The cups that cheer, but not inebriate--

and letting the fumes ascend into the brain, to sit considering what we
shall have for supper--eggs and a rasher, a rabbit smothered in onions,
or an excellent veal-cutlet! Sancho in such a situation once fixed on
cow-heel; and his choice, though he could not help it, is not to be
disparaged. Then, in the intervals of pictured scenery and Shandean
contemplation, to catch the preparation and the stir in the kitchen
[getting ready for the gentleman in the parlour]. _Procul, O procul
este profani!_ These hours are sacred to silence and to musing, to be
treasured up in the memory, and to feed the source of smiling thoughts
hereafter. I would not waste them in idle talk; or if I must have the
integrity of fancy broken in upon, I would rather it were by a stranger
than a friend. A stranger takes his hue and character from the time and
place; he is a part of the furniture and costume of an inn. If he is a
Quaker, or from the West Riding of Yorkshire, so much the better. I do
not even try to sympathise with him, and he breaks no squares. [How I
love to see the camps of the gypsies, and to sigh my soul into that sort
of life. If I express this feeling to another, he may qualify and spoil
it with some objection.] I associate nothing with my travelling
companion but present objects and passing events. In his ignorance of
me and my affairs, I in a manner forget myself. But a friend reminds
one of other things, rips up old grievances, and destroys the
abstraction of the scene. He comes in ungraciously between us and our
imaginary character. Something is dropped in the course of conversation
that gives a hint of your profession and pursuits; or from having some
one with you that knows the less sublime portions of your history, it
seems that other people do. You are no longer a citizen of the world;
but your 'unhoused free condition is put into circumspection and
confine.' The incognito of an inn is one of its striking
privileges--'lord of one's self, uncumbered with a name.' Oh! it is
great to shake off the trammels of the world and of public opinion--to
lose our importunate, tormenting, everlasting personal identity in the
elements of nature, and become the creature of the moment, clear of all
ties--to hold to the universe only by a dish of sweetbreads, and to owe
nothing but the score of the evening--and no longer seeking for applause
and meeting with contempt, to be known by no other title than _the
Gentleman in the parlour!_ One may take one's choice of all characters
in this romantic state of uncertainty as to one's real pretensions, and
become indefinitely respectable and negatively right-worshipful. We
baffle prejudice and disappoint conjecture; and from being so to others,
begin to be objects of curiosity and wonder even to ourselves. We are
no more those hackneyed common-places that we appear in the world; an
inn restores us to the level of nature, and quits scores with society!
I have certainly spent some enviable hours at inns--sometimes when I
have been left entirely to myself, and have tried to solve some
metaphysical problem, as once at Witham Common, where I found out the
proof that likeness is not a case of the association of ideas--at other
times, when there have been pictures in the room, as at St. Neot's (I
think it was), where I first met with Gribelin's engravings of the
Cartoons, into which I entered at once, and at a little inn on the
borders of Wales, where there happened to be hanging some of Westall's
drawings, which I compared triumphantly (for a theory that I had, not
for the admired artist) with the figure of a girl who had ferried me
over the Severn, standing up in a boat between me and the twilight--at
other times I might mention luxuriating in books, with a peculiar
interest in this way, as I remember sitting up half the night to read
_Paul and Virginia,_ which I picked up at an inn at Bridgewater, after
being drenched in the rain all day; and at the same place I got through
two volumes of Madame D'Arblay's _Camilla._ It was on the 10th of April
1798 that I sat down to a volume of the _New Eloise,_ at the inn at
Llangollen, over a bottle of sherry and a cold chicken. The letter I
chose was that in which St. Preux describes his feelings as he first
caught a glimpse from the heights of the Jura of the Pays de Vaud, which
I had brought with me as a _bon bouche_ to crown the evening with. It
was my birthday, and I had for the first time come from a place in the
neighbourhood to visit this delightful spot. The road to Llangollen
turns off between Chirk and Wrexham; and on passing a certain point you
come all at once upon the valley, which opens like an amphitheatre,
broad, barren hills rising in majestic state on either side, with 'green
upland swells that echo to the bleat of flocks' below, and the river Dee
babbling over its stony bed in the midst of them. The valley at this
time 'glittered green with sunny showers,' and a budding ash-tree dipped
its tender branches in the chiding stream. How proud, how glad I was to
walk along the high road that overlooks the delicious prospect,
repeating the lines which I have just quoted from Mr. Coleridge's poems!
But besides the prospect which opened beneath my feet, another also
opened to my inward sight, a heavenly vision, on which were written, in
letters large as Hope could make them, these four words, LIBERTY,
GENIUS, LOVE, VIRTUE; which have since faded into the light of common
day, or mock my idle gaze.

The beautiful is vanished, and returns not.

Still I would return some time or other to this enchanted spot; but I
would return to it alone. What other self could I find to share that
influx of thoughts, of regret, and delight, the fragments of which I
could hardly conjure up to myself, so much have they been broken and
defaced. I could stand on some tall rock, and overlook the precipice of
years that separates me from what I then was. I was at that time going
shortly to visit the poet whom I have above named. Where is he now?
Not only I myself have changed; the world, which was then new to me, has
become old and incorrigible. Yet will I turn to thee in thought, O
sylvan Dee, in joy, in youth and gladness as thou then wert; and thou
shalt always be to me the river of Paradise, where I will drink of the
waters of life freely!

There is hardly anything that shows the short-sightedness or
capriciousness of the imagination more than travelling does. With
change of place we change our ideas; nay, our opinions and feelings. We
can by an effort indeed transport ourselves to old and long-forgotten
scenes, and then the picture of the mind revives again; but we forget
those that we have just left. It seems that we can think but of one
place at a time. The canvas of the fancy is but of a certain extent,
and if we paint one set of objects upon it, they immediately efface
every other. We cannot enlarge our conceptions, we only shift our point
of view. The landscape bares its bosom to the enraptured eye, we take
our fill of it, and seem as if we could form no other image of beauty or
grandeur. We pass on, and think no more of it: the horizon that shuts
it from our sight also blots it from our memory like a dream. In
travelling through a wild barren country I can form no idea of a woody
and cultivated one. It appears to me that all the world must be barren,
like what I see of it. In the country we forget the town, and in town
we despise the country. 'Beyond Hyde Park,' says Sir Topling Flutter,
'all is a desert.' All that part of the map that we do not see before
us is blank. The world in our conceit of it is not much bigger than a
nutshell. It is not one prospect expanded into another, county joined
to county, kingdom to kingdom, land to seas, making an image voluminous
and vast; the mind can form no larger idea of space than the eye can
take in at a single glance. The rest is a name written in a map, a
calculation of arithmetic. For instance, what is the true signification
of that immense mass of territory and population known by the name of
China to us? An inch of pasteboard on a wooden globe, of no more
account than a China orange! Things near us are seen of the size of
life: things at a distance are diminished to the size of the
understanding. We measure the universe by ourselves, and even
comprehend the texture of our being only piecemeal. In this way,
however, we remember an infinity of things and places. The mind is like
a mechanical instrument that plays a great variety of tunes, but it must
play them in succession. One idea recalls another, but it at the same
time excludes all others. In trying to renew old recollections, we
cannot as it were unfold the whole web of our existence; we must pick
out the single threads. So in coming to a place where we have formerly
lived, and with which we have intimate associations, every one must have
found that the feeling grows more vivid the nearer we approach the spot,
from the mere anticipation of the actual impression: we remember
circumstances, feelings, persons, faces, names that we had not thought
of for years; but for the time all the rest of the world is
forgotten!--To return to the question I have quitted above:

I have no objection to go to see ruins, aqueducts, pictures, in company
with a friend or a party, but rather the contrary, for the former reason
reversed. They are intelligible matters, and will bear talking about.
The sentiment here is not tacit, but communicable and overt. Salisbury
Plain is barren of criticism, but Stonehenge will bear a discussion
antiquarian, picturesque, and philosophical. In setting out on a party
of pleasure, the first consideration always is where we shall go to: in
taking a solitary ramble, the question is what we shall meet with by the
way. 'The mind is its own place'; nor are we anxious to arrive at the
end of our journey. I can myself do the honours indifferently well to
works of art and curiosity. I once took a party to Oxford with no mean
eclat--showed them that seat of the Muses at a distance,

With glistering spires and pinnacles adorn'd--

descanted on the learned air that breathes from the grassy quadrangles
and stone walls of halls and colleges--was at home in the Bodleian; and
at Blenheim quite superseded the powdered Cicerone that attended us, and
that pointed in vain with his wand to commonplace beauties in matchless
pictures. As another exception to the above reasoning, I should not
feel confident in venturing on a journey in a foreign country without a
companion. I should want at intervals to hear the sound of my own
language. There is an involuntary antipathy in the mind of an
Englishman to foreign manners and notions that requires the assistance
of social sympathy to carry it off. As the distance from home
increases, this relief, which was at first a luxury, becomes a passion
and an appetite. A person would almost feel stifled to find himself in
the deserts of Arabia without friends and countrymen: there must he
allowed to be something in the view of Athens or old Rome that claims
the utterance of speech; and I own that the Pyramids are too mighty for
any single contemplation. In such situations, so opposite to all one's
ordinary train of ideas, one seems a species by one's-self, a limb torn
off from society, unless one can meet with instant fellowship and
support. Yet I did not feel this want or craving very pressing once,
when I first set my foot on the laughing shores of France. Calais was
peopled with novelty and delight. The confused, busy murmur of the
place was like oil and wine poured into my ears; nor did the mariners'
hymn, which was sung from the top of an old crazy vessel in the harbour,
as the sun went down, send an alien sound into my soul. I only breathed
the air of general humanity. I walked over 'the vine-covered hills and
gay regions of France,' erect and satisfied; for the image of man was
not cast down and chained to the foot of arbitrary thrones: I was at no
loss for language, for that of all the great schools of painting was
open to me. The whole is vanished like a shade. Pictures, heroes,
glory, freedom, all are fled: nothing remains but the Bourbons and the
French people!--There is undoubtedly a sensation in travelling into
foreign parts that is to be had nowhere else; but it is more pleasing at
the time than lasting. It is too remote from our habitual associations
to be a common topic of discourse or reference, and, like a dream or
another state of existence, does not piece into our daily modes of life.
It is an animated but a momentary hallucination. It demands an effort
to exchange our actual for our ideal identity; and to feel the pulse of
our old transports revive very keenly, we must 'jump' all our present
comforts and connections. Our romantic and itinerant character is not
to be domesticated. Dr. Johnson remarked how little foreign travel
added to the facilities of conversation in those who had been abroad.
In fact, the time we have spent there is both delightful, and in one
sense instructive; but it appears to be cut out of our substantial,
downright existence, and never to join kindly on to it. We are not the
same, but another, and perhaps more enviable individual, all the time we
are out of our own country. We are lost to ourselves, as well as our
friends. So the poet somewhat quaintly sings:

Out of my country and myself I go.

Those who wish to forget painful thoughts, do well to absent themselves
for a while from the ties and objects that recall them; but we can be
said only to fulfil our destiny in the place that gave us birth. I
should on this account like well enough to spend the whole of my life in
travelling abroad, if I could anywhere borrow another life to spend
afterwards at home!


[1] Near Nether-Stowey, Somersetshire, where the author of this Essay
visited Coleridge in 1798. He was there again in 1803.

[2] Fletcher's 'Faithful Shepherdess,' i. 3 (Dyce's _Beaumont and
Fletcher,_ ii. 38, 39).



There is a set of people who fairly come under this denomination. They
spend their time and their breath in coffee-houses and other places of
public resort, hearing or repeating some new thing. They sit with a
paper in their hands in the morning, and with a pipe in their mouths in
the evening, discussing the contents of it. The _Times,_ the _Morning
Chronicle,_ and the _Herald_ are necessary to their existence: in them
'they live and move and have their being.' The Evening Paper is
impatiently expected and called for at a certain critical minute: the
news of the morning becomes stale and vapid by the dinner-hour. A
fresher interest is required, an appetite for the latest-stirring
information is excited with the return of their meals; and a glass of
old port or humming ale hardly relishes as it ought without the infusion
of some lively topic that had its birth with the day, and perishes
before night. 'Then come in the sweets of the evening':--the Queen, the
coronation, the last new play, the next fight, the insurrection of the
Greeks or Neapolitans, the price of stocks, or death of kings, keep them
on the alert till bedtime. No question comes amiss to them that is
quite new--none is ever heard of that is at all old.

That of an hour's age doth hiss the speaker.

The World before the Flood or the Intermediate State of the Soul are
never once thought of--such is the quick succession of subjects, the
suddenness and fugitiveness of the interest taken in them, that the
_Twopenny Post Bag_ would be at present looked upon as an old-fashioned
publication; and the Battle of Waterloo, like the proverb, is somewhat
musty. It is strange that people should take so much interest at one
time in what they so soon forget;--the truth is, they feel no interest
in it at any time, but it does for something to talk about. Their ideas
are served up to them, like their bill of fare, for the day; and the
whole creation, history, war, politics, morals, poetry, metaphysics, is
to them like a file of antedated newspapers, of no use, not even for
reference, except the one which lies on the table! You cannot take any
of these persons at a greater disadvantage than before they are provided
with their cue for the day. They ask with a face of dreary vacuity,
'Have you anything new?'--and on receiving an answer in the negative,
have nothing further to say. [They are like an oyster at the ebb of the
tide, gaping for fresh _tidings._] Talk of the Westminster Election,
the Bridge Street Association, or Mr. Cobbett's Letter to John Cropper
of Liverpool, and they are alive again. Beyond the last twenty-four
hours, or the narrow round in which they move, they are utterly to seek,
without ideas, feelings, interests, apprehensions of any sort; so that
if you betray any knowledge beyond the vulgar routine of SECOND EDITIONS
and first-hand private intelligence, you pass with them for a dull
fellow, not acquainted with what is going forward in the world, or with
the practical value of things. I have known a person of this stamp
censure John Cam Hobhouse for referring so often as he does to the
affairs of the Greeks and Romans, as if the affairs of the nation were
not sufficient for his hands: another asks you if a general in modern
times cannot throw a bridge over a river without having studied Caesar's
_Commentaries;_ and a third cannot see the use of the learned languages,
as he has observed that the greatest proficients in them are rather
taciturn than otherwise, and hesitate in their speech more than other
people. A dearth of general information is almost necessary to the
thorough-paced coffee-house politician; in the absence of thought,
imagination, sentiment, he is attracted immediately to the nearest
commonplace, and floats through the chosen regions of noise and empty
rumours without difficulty and without distraction. Meet 'any six of
these men in buckram,' and they will accost you with the same question
and the same answer: they have seen it somewhere in print, or had it
from some city oracle, that morning; and the sooner they vent their
opinions the better, for they will not keep. Like tickets of admission
to the theatre for a particular evening, they must be used immediately,
or they will be worth nothing: and the object is to find auditors for
the one and customers for the other, neither of which is difficult;
since people who have no ideas of their own are glad to hear what any
one else has to say, as those who have not free admissions to the play
will very obligingly take up with an occasional order. It sometimes
gives one a melancholy but mixed sensation to see one of the better sort
of this class of politicians, not without talents or learning, absorbed
for fifty years together in the all-engrossing topic of the day:
mounting on it for exercise and recreation of his faculties, like the
great horse at a riding-school, and after his short, improgressive,
untired career, dismounting just where he got up; flying abroad in
continual consternation on the wings of all the newspapers; waving his
arm like a pump-handle in sign of constant change, and spouting out
torrents of puddled politics from his mouth; dead to all interests but
those of the state; seemingly neither older nor wiser for age;
unaccountably enthusiastic, stupidly romantic, and actuated by no other
motive than the mechanical operations of the spirit of newsmongering.[1]

'What things,' exclaims Beaumont in his verses to Ben Jonson, 'have we
not seen done at the Mermaid!

'Then when there hath been thrown
Wit able enough to justify the town
For three days past, wit that might warrant be
For the whole city to talk foolishly!'

I cannot say the same of the Southampton, though it stands on classic
ground, and is connected by vocal tradition with the great names of the
Elizabethan age. What a falling off is here I Our ancestors of that
period seem not only to be older by two hundred years, and
proportionably wiser and wittier than we, but hardly a trace of them is
left, not even the memory of what has been. How should I make my friend
Mounsey stare, if I were to mention the name of my still better friend,
old honest Signor Friscobaldo, the father of Bellafront;--yet his name
was perhaps invented, and the scenes in which he figures unrivalled
might for the first time have been read aloud to thrilling ears on this
very spot! Who reads Decker now? Or if by chance any one awakes the
strings of that ancient lyre, and starts with delight as they yield
wild, broken music, is he not accused of envy to the living Muse? What
would a linen-draper from Holborn think, if I were to ask him after the
clerk of St. Andrew's, the immortal, the forgotten Webster? His name
and his works are no more heard of: though _these_ were written with a
pen of adamant, 'within the red-leaved tables of the heart,' his fame
was 'writ in water.' So perishable is genius, so swift is time, so
fluctuating is knowledge, and so far is it from being true that men
perpetually accumulate the means of improvement and refinement. On the
contrary, living knowledge is the tomb of the dead, and while light and
worthless materials float on the surface, the solid and sterling as
often sink to the bottom, and are swallowed up for ever in weeds and
quicksands!--A striking instance of the short-lived nature of popular
reputation occurred one evening at the Southampton, when we got into a
dispute, the most learned and recondite that over took place, on the
comparative merits of Lord Byron and Gray. A country gentleman happened
to drop in, and thinking to show off in London company, launched into a
lofty panegyric on _The Bard_ of Gray as the sublimest composition in
the English language. This assertion presently appeared to be an
anachronism, though it was probably the opinion in vogue thirty years
ago, when the gentleman was last in town. After a little floundering,
one of the party volunteered to express a more contemporary sentiment,
by asking in a tone of mingled confidence and doubt--'But you don't
think, sir, that Gray is to be mentioned as a poet in the same day with
my Lord Byron?' The disputants were now at issue: all that resulted was
that Gray was set aside as a poet who would not go down among readers of
the present day, and his patron treated the works of the Noble Bard as
mere ephemeral effusions, and spoke of poets that would be admired
thirty years hence, which was the farthest stretch of his critical
imagination. His antagonist's did not even reach so far. This was the
most romantic digression we over had; and the subject was not afterwards
resumed.--No one here (generally speaking) has the slightest notion of
anything that has happened, that has been said, thought, or done out of
his own recollection. It would be in vain to hearken after those
'wit-skirmishes,' those 'brave sublunary things' which were the
employment and delight of the Beaumonts and Bens of former times: but we
may happily repose on dulness, drift with the tide of nonsense, and gain
an agreeable vertigo by lending an ear to endless controversies. The
confusion, provided you do not mingle in the fray and try to disentangle
it, is amusing and edifying enough. Every species of false wit and
spurious argument may be learnt here by potent examples. Whatever
observations you hear dropt have been picked up in the same place or in
a kindred atmosphere. There is a kind of conversation made up entirely
of scraps and hearsay, as there are a kind of books made up entirely of
references to other books. This may account for the frequent
contradictions which abound in the discourse of persons educated and
disciplined wholly in coffee-houses. There is nothing stable or
well-grounded in it: it is 'nothing but vanity, chaotic vanity.' They
hear a remark at the Globe which they do not know what to make of;
another at the Rainbow in direct opposition to it; and not having time
to reconcile them, vent both at the Mitre. In the course of half an
hour, if they are not more than ordinarily dull, you are sure to find
them on opposite sides of the question. This is the sickening part of
it. People do not seem to talk for the sake of expressing their
opinions, but to maintain an opinion for the sake of talking. We meet
neither with modest ignorance nor studious acquirement. Their knowledge
has been taken in too much by snatches to digest properly. There is
neither sincerity nor system in what they say. They hazard the first
crude notion that comes to hand, and then defend it how they can; which
is for the most part but ill. 'Don't you think,' says Mounsey, 'that
Mr. ----- is a very sensible, well-informed man?' 'Why, no,' I say, 'he
seems to me to have no ideas of his own, and only to wait to see what
others will say in order to set himself against it. I should not think
that is the way to get at the truth. I do not desire to be driven out
of my conclusions (such as they are) merely to make way for his upstart
pretensions.'--'Then there is -----: what of him?' 'He might very well
express all he has to say in half the time, and with half the trouble.
Why should he beat about the bush as he does? He appears to be getting
up a little speech and practising on a smaller scale for a Debating
Society--the lowest ambition a man can have. Besides, by his manner of
drawling out his words, and interlarding his periods with innuendos and
formal reservations, he is evidently making up his mind all the time
which side he shall take. He puts his sentences together as printers
set up types, letter by letter. There is certainly no principle of
short-hand in his mode of elocution. He goes round for a meaning, and
the sense waits for him. It is not conversation, but rehearsing a part.
Men of education and men of the world order this matter better. They
know what they have to say on a subject, and come to the point at once.
Your coffee-house politician balances between what he heard last and
what he shall say next; and not seeing his way clearly, puts you off
with circumstantial phrases, and tries to gain time for fear of making a
false step. This gentleman has heard some one admired for precision and
copiousness of language; and goes away, congratulating himself that he
has not made a blunder in grammar or in rhetoric the whole evening. He
is a theoretical _Quidnunc_--is tenacious in argument, though wary;
carries his point thus and thus, bandies objections and answers with
uneasy pleasantry, and when he has the worst of the dispute, puns very
emphatically on his adversary's name, if it admits of that kind of
misconstruction.' George Kirkpatrick is admired by the waiter, who is a
sleek hand,[2] for his temper in managing an argument. Any one else
would perceive that the latent cause is not patience with his
antagonist, but satisfaction with himself. I think this unmoved
self-complacency, this cavalier, smooth, simpering indifference is more
annoying than the extremest violence or irritability. The one shows
that your opponent does care something about you, and may be put out of
his way by your remarks; the other seems to announce that nothing you
say can shake his opinion a jot, that he has considered the whole of
what you have to offer beforehand, and that he is in all respects much
wiser and more accomplished than you. Such persons talk to grown people
with the same air of patronage and condescension that they do to
children. 'They will explain'--is a familiar expression with them,
thinking you can only differ from them in consequence of misconceiving
what they say. Or if you detect them in any error in point of fact (as
to acknowledged deficiency in wit or argument, they would smile at the
idea), they add some correction to your correction, and thus have the
whip-hand of you again, being more correct than you who corrected them.
If you hint some obvious oversight, they know what you are going to say.
and were aware of the objection before you uttered it:--'So shall their
anticipation prevent your discovery.' By being in the right you gain no
advantage: by being in the wrong you are entitled to the benefit of
their pity or scorn. It is sometimes curious to see a select group of
our little Gotham getting about a knotty point that will bear a wager,
as whether Dr. Johnson's Dictionary was originally published in quarto
or folio. The confident assertions, the cautious overtures, the length
of time demanded to ascertain the fact, the precise terms of the
forfeit, the provisos for getting out of paying it at last, lead to a
long and inextricable discussion. George Kirkpatrick was, however, so
convinced in his own mind that the _Mourning Bride_ was written by
Shakespear, that he ran headlong into the snare: the bet was decided,
and the punch was drunk. He has skill in numbers, and seldom exceeds
his sevenpence.--He had a brother once, no Michael Cassio, no great
arithmetician. Roger Kirkpatrick was a rare fellow, of the driest
humour, and the nicest tact, of infinite sleights and evasions, of a
picked phraseology, and the very soul of mimicry. I fancy I have some
insight into physiognomy myself, but he could often expound to me at a
single glance the characters of those of my acquaintance that I had been
most at fault about. The account as it was cast up and balanced between
us was not always very favourable. How finely, how truly, how gaily he
took off the company at the Southampton! Poor and faint are my sketches
compared to his! It was like looking into a _camera obscura_--you saw
faces shining and speaking--the smoke curled, the lights dazzled, the
oak wainscotting took a higher polish--there was old Sarratt, tall and
gaunt, with his couplet from Pope and case at Nisi Prius, Mounsey eyeing
the ventilator and lying _perdu_ for a moral, and Hume and Ayrton taking
another friendly finishing glass!--These and many more windfalls of
character he gave us in thought, word, and action. I remember his once
describing three different persons together to myself and Martin Burney,
viz. the manager of a country theatre, a tragic and a comic performer,
till we were ready to tumble on the floor with laughing at the oddity of
their humours, and at Roger's extraordinary powers of ventriloquism,
bodily and mental; and Burney said (such was the vividness of the scene)
that when he awoke the next morning, he wondered what three amusing
characters he had been in company with the evening before. Oh! it was a
rich treat to see him describe Mudford, him of the _Courier,_ the
Contemplative Man, who wrote an answer to Coelebs, coming into a room,
folding up his greatcoat, taking out a little pocket volume, laying it
down to think, rubbing the calf of his leg with grave self-complacency,
and starting out of his reverie when spoken to with an inimitable vapid
exclamation of 'Eh!' Mudford is like a man made of fleecy hosiery:
Roger was lank and lean 'as is the ribbed sea-sand.' Yet he seemed the
very man he represented, as fat, pert, and dull as it was possible to
be. I have not seen him of late:--

For Kais is fled, and our tents are forlorn.

But I thought of him the other day, when the news of the death of
Buonaparte came, whom we both loved for precisely contrary reasons, he
for putting down the rabble of the people, and I because he had put down
the rabble of kings. Perhaps this event may rouse him from his
lurking-place, where he lies like Reynard, 'with head declined, in
feigned slumbers!'[3]

I had almost forgotten the Southampton Tavern. We for some time took
C---- for a lawyer, from a certain arguteness of voice and slenderness
of neck, and from his having a quibble and a laugh at himself always
ready. On inquiry, however, he was found to be a patent-medicine
seller, and having leisure in his apprenticeship, and a forwardness of
parts, he had taken to study Blackstone and the _Statutes at Large._ On
appealing to Mounsey for his opinion on this matter, he observed
pithily, 'I don't like so much law: the gentlemen here seem fond of law,
but I have law enough at chambers.' One sees a great deal of the
humours and tempers of men in a place of this sort, and may almost
gather their opinions from their characters. There is C----, a fellow
that is always in the wrong--who puts might for right on all
occasions--a Tory in grain--who has no one idea but what has been
instilled into him by custom and authority--an everlasting babbler on
the stronger side of the question--querulous and dictatorial, and with a
peevish whine in his voice like a beaten schoolboy. He is a great
advocate for the Bourbons and for the National Debt. The former he
affirms to be the choice of the French people, and the latter he insists
is necessary to the salvation of these kingdoms. This last point a
little inoffensive gentleman among us, of a saturnine aspect but simple
conceptions, cannot comprehend. 'I will tell you, sir--I will make my
propositions so clear that you will be convinced of the truth of my
observation in a moment. Consider, sir, the number of trades that would
be thrown out of employ if it were done away with: what would become of
the porcelain manufacture without it?' Any stranger to overhear one of
these debates would swear that the English as a nation are bad
logicians. Mood and figure are unknown to them. They do not argue by
the book. They arrive at conclusions through the force of prejudice,
and on the principles of contradiction. Mr. C---- having thus triumphed
in argument, offers a flower to the notice of the company as a specimen
of his flower-garden, a curious exotic, nothing like it to be found in
this kingdom; talks of his carnations, of his country-house, and old
English hospitality, but never invites any of his friends to come down
and take their Sunday's dinner with him. He is mean and ostentatious at
the same time, insolent and servile, does not know whether to treat
those he converses with as if they were his porters or his customers:
the prentice-boy is not yet wiped out of him, and his imagination still
hovers between his mansion at ----- and the workhouse. Opposed to him
and to every one else is B., a radical reformer and logician, who makes
clear work of the taxes and National Debt, reconstructs the Government
from the first principles of things, shatters the Holy Alliance at a
blow, grinds out the future prospects of society with a machine, and is
setting out afresh with the commencement of the French Revolution five
and twenty years ago, as if on an untried experiment. He minds nothing
but the formal agreement of his premises and his conclusions, and does
not stick at obstacles in the way, nor consequences in the end. If
there was but one side of a question, he would be always in the right.
He casts up one column of the account to admiration, but totally forgets
and rejects the other. His ideas lie like square pieces of wood in his
brain, and may be said to be piled up on a stiff architectural
principle, perpendicularly, and at right angles. There is no
inflection, no modification, no graceful embellishment, no Corinthian
capitals. I never heard him agree to two propositions together, or to
more than half a one at a time. His rigid love of truth bends to
nothing but his habitual love of disputation. He puts one in mind of
one of those long-headed politicians and frequenters of coffee-houses
mentioned in Berkeley's _Minute Philosopher,_ who would make nothing of
such old-fashioned fellows as Plato and Aristotle. He has the new light
strong upon him, and he knocks other people down with its solid beams.
He denies that he has got certain views out of Cobbett, though he allows
that there are excellent ideas occasionally to be met with in that
writer. It is a pity that this enthusiastic and unqualified regard to
truth should be accompanied with an equal exactness of expenditure and
unrelenting eye to the main chance. He brings a bunch of radishes with
him for cheapness, and gives a band of musicians at the door a penny,
observing that he likes their performance better than all the Opera
squalling. This brings the severity of his political principles into
question, if not into contempt. He would abolish the National Debt from
motives of personal economy, and objects to Mr. Canning's pension
because it perhaps takes a farthing a year out of his own pocket. A
great deal of radical reasoning has its source in this feeling.--He
bestows no small quantity of his tediousness upon Mounsey, on whose mind
all these formulas and diagrams fall like seed on stony ground: 'while
the manna is descending,' he shakes his ears, and, in the intervals of
the debate, insinuates an objection, and calls for another half-pint. I
have sometimes said to him, 'Any one to come in here without knowing
you, would take you for the most disputatious man alive, for you are
always engaged in an argument with somebody or other.' The truth is,
that Mounsey is a good-natured, gentlemanly man, who notwithstanding, if
appealed to, will not let an absurd or unjust proposition pass without
expressing his dissent; and therefore he is a sort of mark for all those
(and we have several of that stamp) who like to tease other people's
understandings as wool-combers tease wool. He is certainly the flower
of the flock. He is the oldest frequenter of the place, the latest
sitter-up, well-informed, inobtrusive, and that sturdy old English
character, a lover of truth and justice. I never knew Mounsey approve
of anything unfair or illiberal. There is a candour and uprightness
about his mind which can neither be wheedled nor browbeat into
unjustifiable complaisance. He looks straight forward as he sits with
his glass in his hand, turning neither to the right nor the left, and I
will venture to say that he has never had a sinister object in view
through life. Mrs. Battle (it is recorded in her Opinions on Whist)
could not make up her mind to use the word _'Go.'_ Mounsey, from long
practice, has got over this difficulty, and uses it incessantly. It is
no matter what adjunct follows in the train of this despised
monosyllable,--whatever liquid comes after this prefix is welcome.
Mounsey, without being the most communicative, is the most conversible
man I know. The social principle is inseparable from his person. If he
has nothing to say, he drinks your health; and when you cannot, from the
rapidity and carelessness of his utterance, catch what he says, you
assent to it with equal confidence: you know his meaning is good. His
favourite phrase is, 'We have all of us something of the coxcomb'; and
yet he has none of it himself. Before I had exchanged half a dozen
sentences with Mounsey, I found that he knew several of my old
acquaintance (an immediate introduction of itself, for the discussing
the characters and foibles of common friends is a great sweetener and
cement of friendship)--and had been intimate with most of the wits and
men about town for the last twenty years. He knew Tobin, Wordsworth,
Porson, Wilson, Paley, Erskine, and many others. He speaks of Paley's
pleasantry and unassuming manners, and describes Porson's long potations
and long quotations formerly at the Cider Cellar in a very lively way.
He has doubts, however, as to that sort of learning. On my saying that
I had never seen the Greek Professor but once, at the Library of the
London Institution, when he was dressed in an old rusty black coat with
cobwebs hanging to the skirts of it, and with a large patch of coarse
brown paper covering the whole length of his nose, looking for all the
world like a drunken carpenter, and talking to one of the proprietors
with an air of suavity, approaching to condescension, Mounsey could not
help expressing some little uneasiness for the credit of classical
literature. 'I submit, sir, whether common sense is not the principal
thing? What is the advantage of genius and learning if they are of no
use in the conduct of life?'--Mounsey is one who loves the hours that
usher in the morn, when a select few are left in twos and threes like
stars before the break of day, and when the discourse and the ale are
'aye growing better and better.' Wells, Mounsey, and myself were all
that remained one evening. We had sat together several hours without
being tired of one another's company. The conversation turned on the
Beauties of Charles the Second's Court at Windsor, and from thence to
Count Grammont, their gallant and gay historian. We took our favourite
passages in turn--one preferring that of Killigrew's country cousin,
who, having been resolutely refused by Miss Warminster (one of the Maids
of Honour), when he found she had been unexpectedly brought to bed, fell
on his knees and thanked God that now she might take compassion on
him--another insisting that the Chevalier Hamilton's assignation with
Lady Chesterfield, when she kept him all night shivering in an old
out-house, was better. Jacob Hall's prowess was not forgotten, nor the
story of Miss Stuart's garters. I was getting on in my way with that
delicate _endroit_ in which Miss Churchill is first introduced at court
and is besieged (as a matter of course) by the Duke of York, who was
gallant as well as bigoted on system. His assiduities, however, soon
slackened, owing (it is said) to her having a pale, thin face: till one
day, as they were riding out hunting together, she fell from her horse,
and was taken up almost lifeless. The whole assembled court was thrown
by this event into admiration that such a body should belong to such a
face[4] (so transcendent a pattern was she of the female form), and the
Duke was fixed. This, I contended, was striking, affecting, and grand,
the sublime of amorous biography, and said I could conceive of nothing
finer than the idea of a young person in her situation, who was the
object of indifference or scorn from outward appearance, with the proud
suppressed consciousness of a Goddess-like symmetry, locked up by 'fear
and niceness, the handmaids of ail women,' from the wonder and worship
of mankind. I said so then, and I think so now: my tongue grew wanton
in the praise of this passage, and I believe it bore the bell from its
competitors. Wells then spoke of Lucius Apuleius and his Golden Ass,
which contains the story of Cupid and Psyche, with other matter rich and
rare, and went on to the romance of Heliodorus, Theagenes and Chariclea.
This, as he affirmed, opens with a pastoral landscape equal to Claude,
and in it the presiding deities of Love and Wine appear in all their
pristine strength, youth, and grace, crowned and worshipped as of yore.
The night waned, but our glasses brightened, enriched with the pearls of
Grecian story. Our cup-bearer slept in a corner of the room, like
another Endymion, in the pale ray of a half-extinguished lamp, and
starting up at a fresh summons for a further supply, he swore it was too
late, and was inexorable to entreaty. Mounsey sat with his hat on and
with a hectic flush in his face while any hope remained, but as soon as
we rose to go, he darted out of the room as quick as lightning,
determined not to be the last that went.--I said some time after to the
waiter, that 'Mr. Mounsey was no flincher.' 'Oh! sir,' says he, 'you
should have known him formerly, when Mr. Hume and Mr. Ayrton used to be
here. Now he is quite another man: he seldom stays later than one or
two.'--'Why, did they keep it up much then?' 'Oh! yes; and used to sing
catches and all sorts.'--'What, did Mr. Mounsey sing catches?' 'He
joined chorus, sir, and was as merry as the best of them. He was always
a pleasant gentleman!'--This Hume and Ayrton succumbed in the fight.
Ayrton was a dry Scotchman, Hume a good-natured, hearty Englishman. I
do not mean that the same character applies to all Scotchmen or to all
Englishmen. Hume was of the Pipe-Office (not unfitly appointed), and in
his cheerfuller cups would delight to speak of a widow and a
bowling-green, that ran in his head to the last. 'What is the good of
talking of those things now?' said the man of utility. 'I don't know,'
replied the other, quaffing another glass of sparkling ale, and with a
lambent fire playing in his eye and round his bald forehead--(he had a
head that Sir Joshua would have made something bland and genial of)--'I
don't know, but they were delightful to me at the time, and are still
pleasant to talk and think of.'--_Such a one,_ in Touchstone's phrase,
_is a natural philosopher;_ and in nine cases out of ten that sort of
philosophy is the best! I could enlarge this sketch, such as it is; but
to prose on to the end of the chapter might prove less profitable than

I like very well to sit in a room where there are people talking on
subjects I know nothing of, if I am only allowed to sit silent and as a
spectator; but I do not much like to join in the conversation, except
with people and on subjects to my taste. Sympathy is necessary to
society. To look on, a variety of faces, humours, and opinions is
sufficient; to mix with others, agreement as well as variety is
indispensable. What makes good society? I answer, in one word, real
fellowship. Without a similitude of tastes, acquirements, and pursuits
(whatever may be the difference of tempers and characters) there can be
no intimacy or even casual intercourse worth the having. What makes the
most agreeable party? A number of people with a number of ideas in
common, 'yet so as with a difference'; that is, who can put one or more
subjects which they have all studied in the greatest variety of
entertaining or useful lights. Or, in other words, a succession of good
things said with good-humour, and addressed to the understandings of
those who hear them, make the most desirable conversation. Ladies,
lovers, beaux, wits, philosophers, the fashionable or the vulgar, are
the fittest company for one another. The discourse at Randal's is the
best for boxers; that at Long's for lords and loungers. I prefer Hunt's
conversation almost to any other person's, because, with a familiar
range of subjects, he colours with a totally new and sparkling light,
reflected from his own character. Elia, the grave and witty, says
things not to be surpassed in essence; but the manner is more painful
and less a relief to my own thoughts. Some one conceived he could not
be an excellent companion, because he was seen walking down the side of
the Thames, _passibus iniquis,_ after dining at Richmond. The objection
was not valid. I will, however, admit that the said Elia is the worst
company in the world in bad company, if it be granted me that in good
company he is nearly the best that can be. He is one of those of whom
it may be said, Tell me your company, and I'll tell you your manners.
He is the creature of sympathy, and makes good whatever opinion you seem
to entertain of him. He cannot outgo the apprehensions of the circle,
and invariably acts up or down to the point of refinement or vulgarity
at which they pitch him. He appears to take a pleasure in exaggerating
the prejudice of strangers against him; a pride in confirming the
prepossessions of friends. In whatever scale of intellect he is placed,
he is as lively or as stupid as the rest can be for their lives. If you
think him odd and ridiculous, he becomes more and more so every minute,
_a la folie,_ till he is a wonder gazed [at] by all--set him against a
good wit and a ready apprehension, and he brightens more and more--

Or like a gate of steel
Fronting the sun, receives and renders back
Its figure and its heat.

We had a pleasant party one evening at Procter's. A young literary
bookseller who was present went away delighted with the elegance of the
repast, and spoke in raptures of a servant in green livery and a patent
lamp. I thought myself that the charm of the evening consisted in some
talk about Beaumont and Fletcher and the old poets, in which every one
took part or interest, and in a consciousness that we could not pay our
host a better compliment than in thus alluding to studies in which he
excelled, and in praising authors whom he had imitated with feeling and
sweetness!--I should think it may also be laid down as a rule on this
subject, that to constitute good company a certain proportion of hearers
and speakers is requisite. Coleridge makes good company for this
reason. He immediately establishes the principle of the division of
labour in this respect wherever he comes. He takes his cue as speaker,
and the rest of the party theirs as listeners--a 'Circa herd'--without
any previous arrangement having been gone through. I will just add that
there can be no good society without perfect freedom from affectation
and constraint. If the unreserved communication of feeling or opinion
leads to offensive familiarity, it is not well; but it is no better
where the absence of offensive remarks arises only from formality and an
assumed respectfulness of manner.

I do not think there is anything deserving the name of society to be
found out of London; and that for the two following reasons. First,
there is _neighbourhood_ elsewhere, accidental or unavoidable
acquaintance: people are thrown together by chance or grow together like
trees; but you can pick your society nowhere but in London. The very
persons that of all others you would wish to associate with in almost
every line of life (or at least of intellectual pursuit) are to be met
with there. It is hard if out of a million of people you cannot find
half a dozen to your liking. Individuals may seem lost and hid in the
size of the place; but in fact, from this very circumstance, you are
within two or three miles' reach of persons that, without it, you would
be some hundreds apart from. Secondly, London is the only place in
which each individual in company is treated according to his value in
company, and to that only. In every other part of the kingdom he
carries another character about with him, which supersedes the
intellectual or social one. It is known in Manchester or Liverpool what
every man in the room is worth in land or money; what are his
connections and prospects in life--and this gives a character of
servility or arrogance, of mercenaries or impertinence to the whole of
provincial intercourse. You laugh not in proportion to a man's wit, but
his wealth; you have to consider not what, but whom you contradict. You
speak by the pound, and are heard by the rood. In the metropolis there
is neither time nor inclination for these remote calculations. Every
man depends on the quantity of sense, wit, or good manners he brings
into society for the reception he meets with in it. A Member of
Parliament soon finds his level as a commoner: the merchant and
manufacturer cannot bring his goods to market here: the great landed
proprietor shrinks from being the lord of acres into a pleasant
companion or a dull fellow. When a visitor enters or leaves a room, it
is not inquired whether he is rich or poor, whether he lives in a garret
or a palace, or comes in his own or a hackney coach, but whether he has
a good expression of countenance, with an unaffected manner, and whether
he is a man of understanding or a blockhead. These are the
circumstances by which you make a favourable impression on the company,
and by which they estimate you in the abstract. In the country, they
consider whether you have a vote at the next election or a place in your
gift, and measure the capacity of others to instruct or entertain them
by the strength of their pockets and their credit with their banker.
Personal merit is at a prodigious discount in the provinces. I like the
country very well if I want to enjoy my own company; but London is the
only place for equal society, or where a man can say a good thing or
express an honest opinion without subjecting himself to being insulted,
unless he first lays his purse on the table to back his pretensions to
talent or independence of spirit. I speak from experience.[5]


[1] It is not very long ago that I saw two Dissenting Ministers (the
_Ultima Thud_ of the sanguine, visionary temperament in politics)
stuffing their pipes with dried currant-leaves, calling it Radical
Tobacco, lighting it with a lens in the rays of the sun, and at every
puff fancying that they undermined the Boroughmongers, as Trim blew up
the army opposed to the Allies! They had _deceived the Senate._
Methinks I see them now, smiling as in scorn of Corruption.

Dream on, blest pair:
Yet happier if you knew your happiness,
And knew to know no more!

The world of Reform that you dote on, like Berkeley's material world,
lives only in your own brain, and long may it live there! Those same
Dissenting Ministers throughout the country (I mean the descendants of
the old Puritans) are to this hour a sort of Fifth-monarchy men: very
turbulent fellows, in my opinion altogether incorrigible, and according
to the suggestions of others, should be hanged out of the way without
judge or jury for the safety of church and state. Marry, hang them!
they may be left to die a natural death: the race is nearly extinct of
itself, and can do little more good or harm!

[2] William, our waiter, is dressed neatly in black, takes in the
TICKLER (which many of the gentlemen like to look into), wears, I am
told, a diamond pin in his shirt-collar, has a music-master to teach him
to play on the flageolet two hours before the maids are up, complains of
confinement and a delicate constitution, and is a complete Master
Stephen in his way.

[3] His account of Dr. Whittle was prodigious-of his occult sagacity, of
his eyes prominent and wild like a hare's, fugacious of followers, of
the arts by which he had left the City to lure the patients that he
wanted after him to the West End, of the ounce of tea that he purchased
by stratagem as an unusual treat to his guest, and of the narrow winding
staircase, from the height of which he contemplated in security the
imaginary approach of duns. He was a large, plain, fair-faced Moravian
preacher, turned physician. He was an honest man, but vain of he knew
not what. He was once sitting where Sarratt was playing a game at chess
without seeing the board; and after remaining for some time absorbed in
silent wonder, he turned suddenly to me and said, 'Do you know, Mr.
Hazlitt, that I think there is something I could do?' 'Well, what is
that?' 'Why, perhaps you would not guess, but I think I could dance,
I'm sure I could; ay, I could dance like Vestris!' Sarratt, who was a
man of various accomplishments (among others one of the Fancy),
afterwards bared his arm to convince us of his muscular strength, and
Mrs. Sarratt going out of the room with another lady said, 'Do you know,
Madam, the Doctor is a great jumper!' Moliere could not outdo this.
Never shall I forget his pulling off his coat to eat beef-steaks on
equal terms with Martin Burney. Life is short, but full of mirth and
pastime, did we not so soon forget what we have laughed at, perhaps that
we may not remember what we have cried at! Sarratt, the chess-player,
was an extraordinary man. He had the same tenacious, epileptic faculty
in other things that he had at chess, and could no more get any other
ideas out of his mind than he could those of the figures on the board.
He was a great reader, but had not the least taste. Indeed the violence
of his memory tyrannised over and destroyed all power of selection. He
could repeat [all] Ossian by heart, without knowing the best passage
from the worst; and did not perceive he was tiring you to death by
giving an account of the breed, education, and manners of fighting-dogs
for hours together. The sense of reality quite superseded the
distinction between the pleasurable and the painful. He was altogether
a mechanical philosopher.

[4] Ils ne pouvoient croire qu'un corps de cette beaute fut de quelque
chose au visage de Mademoiselle Churchill.'--_Memoires de Grammont,_
vol. ii. p. 254.

[5] When I was young I spent a good deal of my time at Manchester and
Liverpool; and I confess I give the preference to the former. There you
were oppressed only by the aristocracy of wealth; in the latter by the
aristocracy of wealth and letters by turns. You could not help feeling
that some of their great men were authors among merchants and merchants
among authors. Their bread was buttered on both sides, and they had you
at a disadvantage either way. The Manchester cotton-spinners, on the
contrary, set up no pretensions beyond their looms, were hearty good
fellows, and took any information or display of ingenuity on other
subjects in good part. I remember well being introduced to a
distinguished patron of art and rising merit at a little distance from
Liverpool, and was received with every mark of attention and politeness;
till, the conversation turning on ltalian literature, our host remarked
that there was nothing in the English language corresponding to the
severity of the Italian ode--except perhaps Dryden's _Alexander's Feast_
and Pope's _St. Cecilia!_ I could no longer contain my desire to
display my smattering in criticism, and began to maintain that Pope's
Ode was, as it appeared to me, far from an example of severity in
writing. I soon perceived what I had done, but here am I writing
_Table-talks_ in consequence. Alas! I knew as little of the world then
as I do now. I never could understand anything beyond an abstract



Ha! here's three of us are sophisticated:--off, you lendings.

There is such a thing as an aristocracy or privileged order in letters
which has sometimes excited my wonder, and sometimes my spleen. We meet
with authors who have never done anything, but who have a vast
reputation for what they could have done. Their names stand high, and
are in everybody's mouth, but their works are never heard of, or had
better remain undiscovered for the sake of their admirers.--_Stat
nominis umbra_--their pretensions are lofty and unlimited, as they have
nothing to rest upon, or because it is impossible to confront them with
the proofs of their deficiency. If you inquire farther, and insist upon
some act of authorship to establish the claims of these Epicurean
votaries of the Muses, you find that they had a great reputation at
Cambridge, that they were senior wranglers or successful
prize-essayists, that they visit at Holland House, and, to support that
honour, must be supposed, of course, to occupy the first rank in the
world of letters.[1] It is possible, however, that they have some
manuscript work in hand, which is of too much importance (and the writer
has too much at stake in publishing it) hastily to see the light: or
perhaps they once had an article in the Edinburgh Review, which was much
admired at the time, and is kept by them ever since as a kind of diploma
and unquestionable testimonial of merit. They are not like Grub Street
authors, who write for bread, and are paid by the sheet. Like misers
who hoard their wealth, they are supposed to be masters of all the wit
and sense they do not impart to the public. 'Continents have most of
what they contain,' says a considerable philosopher; and these persons,
it must be confessed, have a prodigious command over themselves in the
expenditure of light and learning. The Oriental curse, '0 that mine
enemy had written a book!' hangs suspended over them. By never
committing themselves, they neither give a handle to the malice of the
world, nor excite the jealousy of friends; and keep all the reputation
they have got, not by discreetly blotting, but by never writing a line.
Some one told Sheridan, who was always busy about some new work and
never advancing any farther in it, that he would not write because he
was afraid of the author of the _School for Scandal._ So these idle
pretenders are afraid of undergoing a comparison with themselves in
something they have never done, but have had credit for doing. They do
not acquire celebrity, they assume it; and escape detection by never
venturing out of their imposing and mysterious incognito. They do not
let themselves down by everyday work: for them to appear in print is a
work of supererogation as much as in lords and kings; and like gentlemen
with a large landed estate, they live on their established character,
and do nothing (or as little as possible) to increase or lose it. There
is not a more deliberate piece of grave imposture going. I know a
person of this description who has been employed many years (by
implication) in a translation of Thucydides, of which no one ever saw a
word, but it does not answer the purpose of bolstering up a factitious
reputation the less on that account. The longer it is delayed and kept
sacred from the vulgar gaze, the more it swells into imaginary
consequence; the labour and care required for a work of this kind being
immense;--and then there are no faults in an unexecuted translation.
The only impeccable writers are those that never wrote. Another is an
oracle on subjects of taste and classical erudition, because (he says at
least) he reads Cicero once a year to keep up the purity of his
Latinity. A third makes the indecency pass for the depth of his
researches and for a high gusto in _virtu,_ till, from his seeing
nothing in the finest remains of ancient art, the world by the merest
accident find out that there is nothing in him. There is scarcely
anything that a grave face with an impenetrable manner will not
accomplish, and whoever is weak enough to impose upon himself will have
wit enough to impose upon the public--particularly if he can make it
their interest to be deceived by shallow boasting, and contrives not to
hurt their self-love by sterling acquirements. Do you suppose that the
understood translation of Thucydides costs its supposed author nothing?
A select party of friends and admirers dine with him once a week at a
magnificent town mansion, or a more elegant and picturesque retreat in
the country. They broach their Horace and their old hock, and sometimes
allude with a considerable degree of candour to the defects of works
which are brought out by contemporary writers--the ephemeral offspring
of haste and necessity!

Among other things, the learned languages are a ready passport to this
sort of unmeaning, unanalysed reputation. They presently lift a man up
among the celestial constellations, the signs of the zodiac (as it were)
and third heaven of inspiration, from whence he looks down on those who
are toiling on in this lower sphere, and earning their bread by the
sweat of their brain, at leisure and in scorn. If the graduates in this
way condescend to express their thoughts in English, it is understood to
be _infra dignitatem_--such light and unaccustomed essays do not fit the
ponderous gravity of their pen--they only draw to advantage and with
full justice to themselves in the bow of the ancients. Their native
tongue is to them strange, inelegant, unapt, and crude. They 'cannot
command it to any utterance of harmony. They have not the skill.' This
is true enough; but you must not say so, under a heavy penalty--the
displeasure of pedants and blockheads. It would be sacrilege against
the privileged classes, the Aristocracy of Letters. What! will you
affirm that a profound Latin scholar, a perfect Grecian, cannot write a
page of common sense or grammar? Is it not to be presumed, by all the
charters of the Universities and the foundations of grammar-schools,
that he who can speak a dead language must be _a fortiori_ conversant
with his own? Surely the greater implies the less. He who knows every
science and every art cannot be ignorant of the most familiar forms of
speech. Or if this plea is found not to hold water, then our scholastic
bungler is said to be above this vulgar trial of skill, 'something must
be excused to want of practice--but did you not observe the elegance of
the Latinity, how well that period would become a classical and studied
dress?' Thus defects are 'monster'd' into excellences, and they screen
their idol, and require you, at your peril, to pay prescriptive homage
to false concords and inconsequential criticisms, because the writer of
them has the character of the first or second Greek or Latin scholar in
the kingdom. If you do not swear to the truth of these spurious
credentials, you are ignorant and malicious, a quack and a
scribbler--_flagranti delicto!_ Thus the man who can merely read and
construe some old author is of a class superior to any living one, and,
by parity of reasoning, to those old authors themselves: the poet or
prose-writer of true and original genius, by the courtesy of custom,
'ducks to the learned fool'; or, as the author of _Hudibras_ has so well
stated the same thing--

He that is but able to express
No sense at all in several languages,
Will pass for learneder than he that's known
To speak the strongest reason in his own.

These preposterous and unfounded claims of mere scholars to precedence
in the commonwealth of letters which they set up so formally themselves
and which others so readily bow to, are partly owing to traditional
prejudice: there was a time when learning was the only distinction from
ignorance, and when there was no such thing as popular English
literature. Again, there is something more palpable and positive in
this kind of acquired knowledge, like acquired wealth, which the vulgar
easily recognise. That others know the meaning of signs which they are
confessedly and altogether ignorant of is to them both a matter of fact
and a subject of endless wonder. The languages are worn like a dress by
a man, and distinguish him sooner than his natural figure; and we are,
from motives of self-love, inclined to give others credit for the ideas
they have borrowed or have come into indirect possession of, rather than
for those that originally belong to them and are exclusively their own.
The merit in them and the implied inferiority in ourselves is less.
Learning is a kind of external appendage or transferable property--

'Twas mine, 'tis his, and may be any man's.

Genius and understanding are a man's self, an integrant part of his
personal identity; and the title to these last, as it is the most
difficult to be ascertained, is also the most grudgingly acknowledged.
Few persons would pretend to deny that Porson had more Greek than they;
it was a question of fact which might be put to the immediate proof, and
could not be gainsaid; but the meanest frequenter of the Cider Cellar or
the Hole in the Wall would be inclined, in his own conceit, to dispute
the palm of wit or sense with him, and indemnify his self-complacency
for the admiration paid to living learning by significant hints to
friends and casual droppers-in, that the greatest men, when you came to
know them, were not without their weak sides as well as others.
Pedants, I will add here, talk to the vulgar as pedagogues talk to
schoolboys, on an understood principle of condescension and superiority,
and therefore make little progress in the knowledge of men or things.
While they fancy they are accommodating themselves to, or else assuming
airs of importance over, inferior capacities, these inferior capacities
are really laughing at them. There can be no true superiority but what
arises out of the presupposed ground of equality: there can be no
improvement but from the free communication and comparing of ideas.
Kings and nobles, for this reason, receive little benefit from
society--where all is submission on one side, and condescension on the
other. The mind strikes out truth by collision, as steel strikes fire
from the flint!

There are whole families who are born classical, and are entered in the
heralds' college of reputation by the right of consanguinity.
Literature, like nobility, runs in the blood. There is the Burney
family. There is no end of it or its pretensions. It produces wits,
scholars, novelists, musicians, artists in 'numbers numberless.' The
name is alone a passport to the Temple of Fame. Those who bear it are
free of Parnassus by birthright. The founder of it was himself an
historian and a musician, but more of a courtier and man of the world
than either. The secret of his success may perhaps be discovered in the
following passage, where, in alluding to three eminent performers on
different instruments, he says: 'These three illustrious personages were
introduced at the Emperor's court,' etc.; speaking of them as if they
were foreign ambassadors or princes of the blood, and thus magnifying
himself and his profession. This overshadowing manner carries nearly
everything before it, and mystifies a great many. There is nothing like
putting the best face upon things, and leaving others to find out the
difference. He who could call three musicians 'personages' would
himself play a personage through life, and succeed in his leading
object. Sir Joshua Reynolds, remarking on this passage, said: 'No one
had a greater respect than he had for his profession, but that he should
never think of applying to it epithets that were appropriated merely to
external rank and distinction.' Madame d'Arblay, it must be owned, had
cleverness enough to stock a whole family, and to set up her
cousin-germans, male and female, for wits and virtuosos to the third and
fourth generation. The rest have done nothing, that I know of, but keep
up the name.

The most celebrated author in modern times has written without a name,
and has been knighted for anonymous productions. Lord Byron complains
that Horace Walpole was not properly appreciated, 'first, because he was
a gentleman; and secondly, because he was a nobleman.' His Lordship
stands in one, at least, of the predicaments here mentioned, and yet he
has had justice, or somewhat more, done him. He towers above his
fellows by all the height of the peerage. If the poet lends a grace to
the nobleman, the nobleman pays it back to the poet with interest. What
a fine addition is ten thousand a year and a title to the flaunting
pretensions of a modern rhapsodist! His name so accompanied becomes the
mouth well: it is repeated thousands of times, instead of hundreds,
because the reader in being familiar with the Poet's works seems to
claim acquaintance with the Lord.

Let but a lord once own the happy lines:
How the wit brightens, and the style refines!

He smiles at the high-flown praise or petty cavils of little men. Does
he make a slip in decorum, which Milton declares to be the principal
thing? His proud crest and armorial bearings support him: no
bend-sinister slurs his poetical escutcheon! Is he dull, or does he put
of some trashy production on the public? It is not charged to his
account, as a deficiency which he must make good at the peril of his
admirers. His Lordship is not answerable for the negligence or
extravagances of his Muse. He 'bears a charmed reputation, which must
not yield' like one of vulgar birth. The Noble Bard is for this reason
scarcely vulnerable to the critics. The double barrier of his
pretensions baffles their puny, timid efforts. Strip off some of his
tarnished laurels, and the coronet appears glittering beneath: restore
them, and it still shines through with keener lustre. In fact, his
Lordship's blaze of reputation culminates from his rank and place in
society. He sustains two lofty and imposing characters; and in order to
simplify the process of our admiration, and 'leave no rubs or botches in
the way,' we equalise his pretensions, and take it for granted that he
must be as superior to other men in genius as he is in birth. Or, to
give a more familiar solution of the enigma, the Poet and the Peer agree
to honour each other's acceptances on the bank of Fame, and sometimes
cozen the town to some tune between them. Really, however, and with all
his privileges, Lord Byron might as well not have written that strange
letter about Pope. I could not afford it, poor as I am. Why does he
pronounce, _ex cathedra_ and robed, that Cowper is no poet? Cowper was
a gentleman and of noble family like his critic. He was a teacher of
morality as well as a describer of nature, which is more than his
Lordship is. His _John Gilpin_ will last as long as _Beppo,_ and his
verses to Mary are not less touching than the _Farewell._ If I had
ventured upon such an assertion as this, it would have been worse for me
than finding out a borrowed line in the _Pleasures of Hope._

There is not a more helpless or more despised animal than a mere author,
without any extrinsic advantages of birth, breeding, or fortune to set
him off. The real ore of talents or learning must be stamped before it
will pass current. To be at all looked upon as an author, a man must be
something more or less than an author--a rich merchant, a banker, a
lord, or a ploughman. He is admired for something foreign to himself,
that acts as a bribe to the servility or a set-off to the envy of the
community. 'What should such fellows as we do, crawling betwixt heaven
and earth';--'coining our hearts for drachmas'; now scorched in the sun,
now shivering in the breeze, now coming out in our newest gloss and best
attire, like swallows in the spring, now 'sent back like hollowmas or
shortest day'? The best wits, like the handsomest faces _upon the
town,_ lead a harassing, precarious life--are taken up for the bud and
promise of talent, which they no sooner fulfil than they are thrown
aside like an old fashion--are caressed without reason, and insulted
with impunity--are subject to all the caprice, the malice, and fulsome
advances of that great keeper, the Public--and in the end come to no
good, like all those who lavish their favours on mankind at large, and
look to the gratitude of the world for their reward. Instead of this
set of Grub Street authors, the mere _canaille_ of letters, this
corporation of Mendicity, this ragged regiment of genius suing at the
corners of streets in _forma pauperis,_ give me the gentleman and
scholar, with a good house over his head and a handsome table 'with wine
of Attic taste' to ask his friends to, and where want and sorrow never
come. Fill up the sparkling bowl; heap high the dessert with roses
crowned; bring out the hot-pressed poem, the vellum manuscripts, the
medals, the portfolios, the intaglios--this is the true model of the
life of a man of taste and _virtu_--the possessors, not the inventors of
these things, are the true benefactors of mankind and ornaments of
letters. Look in, and there, amidst silver services and shining
chandeliers, you will see the man of genius at his proper post, picking
his teeth and mincing an opinion, sheltered by rank, bowing to wealth--a
poet framed, glazed, and hung in a striking light; not a straggling
weed, torn and trampled on; not a poor _Kit-run-the-street,_ but a
powdered beau, a sycophant plant, an exotic reared in a glass case,
hermetically sealed,

Free from the Sirian star and the dread thunder-stroke

whose mealy coat no moth can corrupt nor blight can wither. The poet
Keats had not this sort of protection for his person--he lay bare to
weather--the serpent stung him, and the poison-tree dropped upon this
little western flower: when the mercenary servile crew approached him,
he had no pedigree to show them, no rent-roll to hold out in reversion
for their praise: he was not in any great man's train, nor the butt and
puppet of a lord--he could only offer them 'the fairest flowers of the
season, carnations and streaked gilliflowers,'--'rue for remembrance and
pansies for thoughts,'--they recked not of his gift, but tore him with
hideous shouts and laughter,

Nor could the Muse protect her son!

Unless an author has all establishment of his own, or is entered on that
of some other person, he will hardly be allowed to write English or to
spell his own name. To be well spoken of, he must enlist under some
standard; he must belong to some _coterie._ He must get the _esprit de
corps_ on his side: he must have literary bail in readiness. Thus they
prop up one another's rickety heads at Murray's shop, and a spurious
reputation, like false argument, runs in a circle. Croker affirms that
Gifford is sprightly, and Gifford that Croker is genteel; Disraeli that
Jacob is wise, and Jacob that Disraeli is good-natured. A Member of
Parliament must be answerable that you are not dangerous or dull before
you can be of the _entree._ You must commence toad-eater to have your
observations attended to; if you are independent, unconnected, you will
be regarded as a poor creature. Your opinion is honest, you will say;
then ten to one it is not profitable. It is at any rate your own. So
much the worse; for then it is not the world's. Tom Hill is a very
tolerable barometer in this respect. He knows nothing, hears
everything, and repeats just what he hears; so that you may guess pretty
well from this round-faced echo what is said by others! Almost
everything goes by presumption and appearances. 'Did you not think Mr.
B----'s language very elegant?'--I thought he bowed very low. 'Did you
not think him remarkably well-behaved?'--He was unexceptionably dressed.
'But were not Mr. C----'s manners quite insinuating?'--He said nothing.
'You will at least allow his friend to be a well-informed man."--He
talked upon all subjects alike. Such would be a pretty faithful
interpretation of the tone of what is called _good society._ The
surface is everything; we do not pierce to the core. The setting is
more valuable than the jewel. Is it not so in other things as well as
letters? Is not an R. A. by the supposition a greater man in his
profession than any one who is not so blazoned? Compared with that
unrivalled list, Raphael had been illegitimate, Claude not classical,
and Michael Angelo admitted by special favour. What is a physician
without a diploma? An alderman without being knighted? An actor whose
name does not appear in great letters? All others are counterfeits--men
'of no mark or likelihood.' This was what made the Jackals of the North
so eager to prove that I had been turned out of the _Edinburgh Review._
It was not the merit of the articles which excited their spleen--but
their being there. Of the style they knew nothing; for the thought they
cared nothing: all that they knew was that I wrote in that powerful
journal, and therefore they asserted that I did not!

We find a class of persons who labour under an obvious natural
inaptitude for whatever they aspire to. Their manner of setting about
it is a virtual disqualification. The simple affirmation, 'What this
man has said, I will do,' is not always considered as the proper test of
capacity. On the contrary, there are people whose bare pretensions are
as good or better than the actual performance of others. What I myself
have done, for instance, I never find admitted as proof of what I shall
be able to do: whereas I observe others who bring as proof of their
competence to any task (and are taken at their word) what they have
never done, and who gravely assure those who are inclined to trust them
that their talents are exactly fitted for some post because they are
just the reverse of what they have ever shown them to be. One man has
the air of an Editor as much as another has that of a butler or porter
in a gentleman's family. ----- is the model of this character, with a
prodigious look of business, an air of suspicion which passes for
sagacity, and an air of deliberation which passes for judgment. If his
own talents are no ways prominent, it is inferred he will be more
impartial and in earnest in making use of those of others. There is
Britton, the responsible conductor of several works of taste and
erudition, yet (God knows) without an idea in his head relating to any
one of them. He is learned by proxy, and successful from sheer
imbecility. If he were to get the smallest smattering of the
departments which are under his control, he would betray himself from
his desire to shine; but as it is, he leaves others to do all the
drudgery for him. He signs his name in the title-page or at the bottom
of a vignette, and nobody suspects any mistake. This contractor for
useful and ornamental literature once offered me two guineas for a _Life
and Character of Shakespear,_ with an admission to his _converzationi._
I went once. There was a collection of learned lumber, of antiquaries,
lexicographers, and other 'illustrious obscure,' and I had given up the
day for lost, when in dropped Jack Taylor of the _Sun_--(who would dare
to deny that he was 'the Sun of our table'?)--and I had nothing now to
do but hear and laugh. Mr. Taylor knows most of the good things that
have been said in the metropolis for the last thirty years, and is in
particular an excellent retailer of the humours and extravagances of his
old friend Peter Pindar. He had recounted a series of them, each rising
above the other in a sort of magnificent burlesque and want of literal
preciseness, to a medley of laughing and sour faces, when on his
proceeding to state a joke of a practical nature by the said Peter, a
Mr. ----- (I forget the name) objected to the moral of the story, and to
the whole texture of Mr. Taylor's facetiae--upon which our host, who had
till now supposed that all was going on swimmingly, thought it time to
interfere and give a turn to the conversation by saying, 'Why, yes,
gentlemen, what we have hitherto heard fall from the lips of our friend
has been no doubt entertaining and highly agreeable in its way; but
perhaps we have had enough of what is altogether delightful and pleasant
and light and laughable in conduct. Suppose, therefore, we were to
shift the subject, and talk of what is serious and moral and industrious
and laudable in character--Let us talk of Mr. Tomkins the Penman!'--This
staggered the gravest of us, broke up our dinner-party, and we went
upstairs to tea. So much for the didactic vein of one of our principal
guides in the embellished walks of modern taste, and master
manufacturers of letters. He had found that gravity had been a
never-failing resource when taken at a pinch--for once the joke
miscarried--and Mr. Tomkins the Penman figures to this day nowhere but
in Sir Joshua's picture of him!

To complete the natural Aristocracy of Letters, we only want a Royal
Society of Authors!


[1] Lord Holland had made a diary (in the manner of Boswell) of the
conversation held at his house, and read it at the end of a week _pro
bono publico._ Sir James Mackintosh made a considerable figure in it,
and a celebrated poet none at all, merely answering Yes and No. With
this result he was by no means satisfied, and talked incessantly from
that day forward. At the end of the week he asked, with some anxiety
and triumph, If his Lordship had continued his diary, expecting himself
to shine in 'the first row of the rubric.' To which his Noble Patron
answered in the negative, with an intimation that it had not appeared to
him worth while. Our poet was thus thrown again into the background,
and Sir James remained master of the field!



Criticism is an art that undergoes a great variety of changes, and aims
at different objects at different times.

At first, it is generally satisfied to give an opinion whether a work is
good or bad, and to quote a passage or two in support of this opinion:
afterwards, it is bound to assign the reasons of its decision and to
analyse supposed beauties or defects with microscopic minuteness. A
critic does nothing nowadays who does not try to torture the most
obvious expression into a thousand meanings, and enter into a circuitous
explanation of all that can be urged for or against its being in the
best or worst style possible. His object indeed is not to do justice to
his author, whom he treats with very little ceremony, but to do himself
homage, and to show his acquaintance with all the topics and resources
of criticism. If he recurs to the stipulated subject in the end, it is
not till after he has exhausted his budget of general knowledge; and he
establishes his own claims first in an elaborate inaugural dissertation
_de omni scibile et quibusdam aliis,_ before he deigns to bring forward
the pretensions of the original candidate for praise, who is only the
second figure in the piece. We may sometimes see articles of this sort,
in which no allusion whatever is made to the work under sentence of
death, after the first announcement of the title-page; and I apprehend
it would be a clear improvement on this species of nominal criticism to
give stated periodical accounts of works that had never appeared at all,
which would save the hapless author the mortification of writing, and
his reviewer the trouble of reading them. If the real author is made of
so little account by the modern critic, he is scarcely more an object of
regard to the modern reader; and it must be confessed that after a dozen
close-packed pages of subtle metaphysical distinction or solemn didactic
declamation, in which the disembodied principles of all arts and
sciences float before the imagination in undefined profusion, the eye
turns with impatience and indifference to the imperfect embryo specimens
of them, and the hopeless attempts to realise this splendid jargon in
one poor work by one poor author, which is given up to summary execution
with as little justice as pity. 'As when a well-graced actor leaves the
stage, men's eyes are idly bent on him that enters next'--so it is here.
Whether this state of the press is not a serious abuse and a violent
encroachment in the republic of letters, is more than I shall pretend to
determine. The truth is, that in the quantity of works that issue from
the press, it is utterly impossible they should all be read by all sorts
of people. There must be _tasters_ for the public, who must have a
discretionary power vested in them, for which it is difficult to make
them properly accountable. Authors in proportion to their numbers
become not formidable, but despicable. They would not be heard of or
severed from the crowd without the critic's aid, and all complaints of
ill-treatment are vain. He considers them as pensioners on his bounty
for any pittance or praise, and in general sets them up as butts for his
wit and spleen, or uses them as a stalking-horse to convey his own
favourite notions and opinions, which he can do by this means without
the possibility of censure or appeal. He looks upon his literary
_protege_ (much as Peter Pounce looked upon Parson Adams) as a kind of
humble companion or unnecessary interloper in the vehicle of fame, whom
he has taken up purely to oblige him, and whom he may treat with neglect
or insult, or set down in the common footpath, whenever it suits his
humour or convenience. He naturally grows arbitrary with the exercise
of power. He by degrees wants to have a clear stage to himself, and
would be thought to have purchased a monopoly of wit, learning, and

Assumes the rod, affects the God,
And seems to shake the spheres.

Besides, something of this overbearing manner goes a great way with the
public. They cannot exactly tell whether you are right or wrong; and if
you state your difficulties or pay much deference to the sentiments of
others, they will think you a very silly fellow or a mere pretender. A
sweeping, unqualified assertion ends all controversy, and sets opinion
at rest. A sharp, sententious, cavalier, dogmatical tone is therefore
necessary, even in self-defence, to the office of a reviewer. If you do
not deliver your oracles without hesitation, how are the world to
receive them on trust and without inquiry? People read to have
something to talk about, and 'to seem to know that which they do not.'
Consequently, there cannot be too much dialectics and debatable matter,
too much pomp and paradox, in a review. _To elevate and surprise_ is
the great rule for producing a dramatic or critical effect. The more
you startle the reader, the more he will be able to startle others with
a succession of smart intellectual shocks. The most admired of our
Reviews is saturated with this sort of electrical matter, which is
regularly played off so as to produce a good deal of astonishment and a
strong sensation in the public mind. The intrinsic merits of an author
are a question of very subordinate consideration to the keeping up the
character of the work and supplying the town with a sufficient number of
grave or brilliant topics for the consumption of the next three months!

This decided and paramount tone in criticism is the growth of the
present century, and was not at all the fashion in that calm, peaceable
period when the _Monthly Review_ bore 'sole sovereign sway and
masterdom' over all literary productions. Though nothing can be said
against the respectability or usefulness of that publication during its
long and almost exclusive enjoyment of the public favour, yet the style
of criticism adopted in it is such as to appear slight and
unsatisfactory to a modern reader. The writers, instead of 'outdoing
termagant or out-Heroding Herod,' were somewhat precise and prudish,
gentle almost to a fault, full of candour and modesty,

And of their port as meek as is a maid![1]

There was none of that Drawcansir work going on then that there is now;
no scalping of authors, no hacking and hewing of their Lives and
Opinions, except that they used those of Tristram Shandy, gent., rather
scurvily; which was to be expected. All, however, had a show of
courtesy and good manners. The satire was covert and artfully
insinuated; the praise was short and sweet. We meet with no oracular
theories; no profound analysis of principles; no unsparing exposure of
the least discernible deviation from them. It was deemed sufficient to
recommend the work in general terms, 'This is an agreeable volume,' or
'This is a work of great learning and research,' to set forth the title
and table of contents, and proceed without farther preface to some
appropriate extracts, for the most part concurring in opinion with the
author's text, but now and then interposing an objection to maintain
appearances and assert the jurisdiction of the court. This cursory
manner of hinting approbation or dissent would make but a lame figure at
present. We must have not only an announcement that 'This is an
agreeable or able work'; but we must have it explained at full length,
and so as to silence all cavillers, in what the agreeableness or ability
of the work consists: the author must be reduced to a class, all the
living or defunct examples of which must be characteristically and
pointedly _differenced_ from one another; the value of this class of
writing must be developed and ascertained in comparison with others; the
principles of taste, the elements of our sensations, the structure of
the human faculties, all must undergo a strict scrutiny and revision.
The modern or metaphysical system of criticism, in short, supposes the
question, _Why?_ to be repeated at the end of every decision; and the
answer gives birth to interminable arguments and discussion. The former
laconic mode was well adapted to guide those who merely wanted to be
informed of the character and subject of a work in order to read it: the
present is more useful to those whose object is less to read the work
than to dispute upon its merits, and go into company clad in the whole
defensive and offensive armour of criticism.

Neither are we less removed at present from the dry and meagre mode of
dissecting the skeletons of works, instead of transfusing their living
principles, which prevailed in Dryden's Prefaces,[2] and in the
criticisms written on the model of the French school about a century
ago. A genuine criticism should, as I take it, reflect the colours, the
light and shade, the soul and body of a work: here we have nothing but
its superficial plan and elevation, as if a poem were a piece of formal
architecture. We are told something of the plot or fable, of the moral,
and of the observance or violation of the three unities of time, place,
and action; and perhaps a word or two is added on the dignity of the
persons or the baldness of the style; but we no more know, after reading
one of these complacent _tirades,_ what the essence of the work is, what
passion has been touched, or how skilfully, what tone and movement the
author's mind imparts to his subject or receives from it, than if we had
been reading a homily or a gazette. That is, we are left quite in the
dark as to the feelings of pleasure or pain to be derived from the
genius of the performance or the manner in which it appeals to the
imagination: we know to a nicety how it squares with the threadbare
rules of composition, not in the least how it affects the principles of
taste. We know everything about the work, and nothing of it. The
critic takes good care not to baulk the reader's fancy by anticipating
the effect which the author has aimed at producing. To be sure, the
works so handled were often worthy of their commentators; they had the
form of imagination without the life or power; and when any one had gone
regularly through the number of acts into which they were divided, the
measure in which they were written, or the story on which they were
founded, there was little else to be said about them. It is curious to
observe the effect which the _Paradise Lost_ had on this class of
critics, like throwing a tub to a whale: they could make nothing of it.
'It was out of all plumb--not one of the angles at the four corners was
a right angle!' They did not seek for, nor would they much relish, the
marrow of poetry it contained. Like polemics in religion, they had
discarded the essentials of fine writing for the outward form and points
of controversy. They were at issue with Genius and Nature by what route
and in what garb they should enter the Temple of the Muses. Accordingly
we find that Dryden had no other way of satisfying himself of the
pretensions of Milton in the epic style but by translating his anomalous
work into rhyme and dramatic dialogue.[3] So there are connoisseurs who
give you the subject, the grouping, the perspective, and all the
mechanical circumstances of a picture; but they never say a word about
the expression. The reason is, they see the former, but not the latter.
There are persons, however, who cannot employ themselves better than in
taking an inventory of works of art (they want a faculty for higher
studies), as there are works of art, so called, which seemed to have
been composed expressly with an eye to such a class of connoisseurs. In
them are to be found no recondite nameless beauties thrown away upon the
stupid vulgar gaze; no 'graces snatched beyond the reach of art';
nothing but what the merest pretender may note down in good set terms in
his common-place book, just as it is before him. Place one of these
half-informed, imperfectly organised spectators before a tall canvas
with groups on groups of figures, of the size of life, and engaged in a
complicated action, of which they know the name and all the particulars,
and there are no bounds to their burst of involuntary enthusiasm. They
mount on the stilts of the subject and ascend the highest Heaven of
Invention, from whence they see sights and hear revelations which they
communicate with all the fervour of plenary explanation to those who may
be disposed to attend to their raptures. They float with wings expanded
in lofty circles, they stalk over the canvas at large strides, never
condescending to pause at anything of less magnitude than a group or a
colossal figure. The face forms no part of their collective inquiries;
or so that it occupies only a sixth or an eighth proportion to the whole
body, all is according to the received rules of composition. Point to a
divine portrait of Titian, to an angelic head of Guido, close by--they
see and heed it not. What are the 'looks commercing with the skies,'
the soul speaking in the face, to them? It asks another and an inner
sense to comprehend them; but for the trigonometry of painting, nature
has constituted them indifferently well. They take a stand on the
distinction between portrait and history, and there they are
spell-bound. Tell them that there can be no fine history without
portraiture, that the painter must proceed from that ground to the one
above it, and that a hundred bad heads cannot make one good historical
picture, and they will not believe you, though the thing is obvious to
any gross capacity. Their ideas always fly to the circumference, and
never fix at the centre. Art must be on a grand scale; according to
them, the whole is greater than a part, and the greater necessarily
implies the less. The outline is, in this view of the matter, the same
thing as the filling-up, and 'the limbs and flourishes of a discourse'
the substance. Again, the same persons make an absolute distinction,
without knowing why, between high and low subjects. Say that you would
as soon have Murillo's Two Beggar Boys at the Dulwich Gallery as almost
any picture in the world, that is, that it would be one you would choose
out of ten (had you the choice), and they reiterate upon you that surely
a low subject cannot be of equal value with a high one. It is in vain
that you turn to the picture: they keep to the class. They have eyes,
but see not; and, upon their principles of refined taste, would be just
as good judges of the merit of the picture without seeing it as with
that supposed advantage. They know what the subject is _from the
catalogue!_--Yet it is not true, as Lord Byron asserts, that execution
is everything, and the class or subject nothing. The highest subjects,
equally well executed (which, however, rarely happens), are the best.
But the power of execution, the manner of seeing nature, is one thing,
and may be so superlative (if you are only able to judge of it) as to
countervail every disadvantage of subject. Raphael's storks in the
Miraculous Draught of Fishes, exulting in the event, are finer than the
head of Christ would have been in almost any other hands. The cant of
criticism is on the other side of the question; because execution
depends on various degrees of power in the artist, and a knowledge of it
on various degrees of feeling and discrimination in you; but to commence
artist or connoisseur in the grand style at once, without any
distinction of qualifications whatever, it is only necessary for the
first to choose his subject and for the last to pin his faith on the
sublimity of the performance, for both to look down with ineffable
contempt on the painters and admirers of subjects of low life. I
remember a young Scotchman once trying to prove to me that Mrs. Dickons
was a superior singer to Miss Stephens, because the former excelled in
sacred music and the latter did not. At that rate, that is, if it is
the singing sacred music that gives the preference, Miss Stephens would
only have to sing sacred music to surpass herself and vie with her
pretended rival; for this theory implies that all sacred music is
equally good, and, therefore, better than any other. I grant that
Madame Catalani's singing of sacred music is superior to Miss Stephens's
ballad-strains, because her singing is better altogether, and an ocean
of sound more wonderful than a simple stream of dulcet harmonies. In
singing the last verse of 'God Save the King' not long ago her voice
towered above the whole confused noise of the orchestra like an eagle
piercing the clouds, and poured 'such sweet thunder' through the ear as
excited equal astonishment and rapture!

Some kinds of criticism are as much too insipid as others are too
pragmatical. It is not easy to combine point with solidity, spirit with
moderation and candour. Many persons see nothing but beauties in a
work, others nothing but defects. Those cloy you with sweets, and are
'the very milk of human kindness,' flowing on in a stream of luscious
panegyrics; these take delight in poisoning the sources of your
satisfaction, and putting you out of conceit with nearly every author
that comes in their way. The first are frequently actuated by personal
friendship, the last by all the virulence of party spirit. Under the
latter head would fall what may be termed _political criticism._ The
basis of this style of writing is a _caput mortuum_ of impotent spite
and dulness, till it is varnished over with the slime of servility, and
thrown into a state of unnatural activity by the venom of the most
rancorous bigotry. The eminent professors in this grovelling department
are at first merely out of sorts with themselves, and vent their spleen
in little interjections and contortions of phrase--cry _Pish_ at a lucky
hit, and _Hem_ at a fault, are smart on personal defects, and sneer at
'Beauty out of favour and on crutches'--are thrown into an ague-fit by
hearing the name of a rival, start back with horror at any approach to
their morbid pretensions, like Justice Woodcock with his gouty
limbs--rifle the flowers of the Della Cruscan school, and give you in
their stead, as models of a pleasing pastoral style, Verses upon
Anna--which you may see in the notes to the _Baviad_ and _Maeviad._ All
this is like the fable of 'The Kitten and the Leaves.' But when they
get their brass collar on and shake their bells of office, they set up
their backs like the Great Cat Rodilardus, and pounce upon men and
things. Woe to any little heedess reptile of an author that ventures
across their path without a safe-conduct from the Board of Control.
They snap him up at a mouthful, and sit licking their lips, stroking
their whiskers, and rattling their bells over the imaginary fragments of
their devoted prey, to the alarm and astonishment of the whole breed of
literary, philosophical, and revolutionary vermin that were naturalised
in this country by a Prince of Orange and an Elector of Hanover a
hundred years ago.[4] When one of these pampered, sleek,
'demure-looking, spring-nailed, velvet-pawed, green-eyed' critics makes
his King and Country parties to this sort of sport literary, you have
not much chance of escaping out of his clutches in a whole skin.
Treachery becomes a principle with them, and mischief a conscience, that
is, a livelihood. They not only _damn_ the work in the lump, but vilify
and traduce the author, and substitute lying abuse and sheer malignity
for sense and satire. To have written a popular work is as much as a
man's character is worth, and sometimes his life, if he does not happen
to be on the right side of the question. The way in which they set
about _stultifying_ an adversary is not to accuse you of faults, or to
exaggerate those which you may really have, but they deny that you have
any merits at all, least of all those that the world have given you
credit for; bless themselves from understanding a single sentence in a
whole volume; and unless you are ready to subscribe to all their
articles of peace, will not allow you to be qualified to write your own
name. It is not a question of literary discussion, but of political
proscription. It is a mark of loyalty and patriotism to extend no
quarter to those of the opposite party. Instead of replying to your
arguments, they call you names, put words and opinions into your mouth
which you have never uttered, and consider it a species of misprision of
treason to admit that a Whig author knows anything of common sense or
English. The only chance of putting a stop to this unfair mode of
dealing would perhaps be to make a few reprisals by way of example. The
Court party boast some writers who have a reputation to lose, and who
would not like to have their names dragged through the kennel of dirty
abuse and vulgar obloquy. What silenced the masked battery of
_Blackwood's Magazine_ was the implication of the name of Sir Walter
Scott in some remarks upon it--(an honour of which it seems that
extraordinary person was not ambitious)--to be 'pilloried on infamy's
high stage' was a distinction and an amusement to the other gentlemen
concerned in that praiseworthy publication. I was complaining not long
ago of this prostitution of literary criticism as peculiar to our own
times, when I was told that it was just as bad in the time of Pope and
Dryden, and indeed worse, inasmuch as we have no Popes or Drydens now on
the obnoxious side to be nicknamed, metamorphosed into scarecrows, and
impaled alive by bigots and dunces. I shall not pretend to say how far
this remark may be true. The English (it must be owned) are rather a
foul-mouthed nation.

Besides temporary or accidental biases of this kind, there seem to be
sects and parties in taste and criticism (with a set of appropriate
watchwords) coeval with the arts of composition, and that will last as
long as the difference with which men's minds are originally
constituted. There are some who are all for the elegance of an author's
style, and some who are equally delighted with simplicity. The last
refer you to Swift as a model of English prose, thinking all other
writers sophisticated and naught; the former prefer the more ornamented
and sparkling periods of Junius or Gibbon. It is to no purpose to think
of bringing about an understanding between these opposite factions. It
is a natural difference of temperament and constitution of mind. The
one will never relish the antithetical point and perpetual glitter of
the artificial prose style; as the plain, unperverted English idiom will
always appear trite and insipid to the others. A toleration, not an
uniformity of opinion, is as much as can be expected in this case; and
both sides may acknowledge, without imputation on their taste or
consistency, that these different writers excelled each in their way. I
might remark here that the epithet _elegant_ is very sparingly used in
modern criticism. It has probably gone out of fashion with the
appearance of the _Lake School,_ who, I apprehend, have no such phrase
in their vocabulary. Mr. Rogers was, I think, almost the last poet to
whom it was applied as a characteristic compliment. At present it would
be considered as a sort of diminutive of the title of poet, like the
terms _pretty_ or _fanciful_, and is banished from the _haut ton_ of
letters. It may perhaps come into request at some future period.
Again, the dispute between the admirers of Homer and Virgil has never
been settled and never will, for there will always be minds to whom the
excellences of Virgil will be more congenial, and therefore more objects
of admiration and delight than those of Homer, and _vice versa._ Both
are right in preferring what suits them best, the delicacy and
selectness of the one, or the fulness and majestic flow of the other.
There is the same difference in their tastes that there was in the
genius of their two favourites. Neither can the disagreement between
the French and English school of tragedy ever be reconciled till the
French become English or the English French.[5] Both are right in what
they admire, both are wrong in condemning the others for what they
admire. We see the defects of Racine, they see the faults of Shakespear
probably in an exaggerated point of view. But we may be sure of this,
that when we see nothing but grossness and barbarism, or insipidity and
verbiage, in a writer that is the god of a nation's idolatry, it is we
and not they who want true taste and feeling. The controversy about
Pope and the opposite school in our own poetry comes to much the same
thing. Pope's correctness, smoothness, etc., are very good things and
much to be commended in him. But it is not to be expected or even
desired that others should have these qualities in the same paramount
degree, to the exclusion of everything else. If you like correctness
and smoothness of all things in the world, there they are for you in
Pope. If you like other things better, such as strength and sublimity,
you know where to go for them. Why trouble Pope or any other author for
what they have not, and do not profess to give? Those who seem to imply
that Pope possessed, besides his own peculiar, exquisite merits, all
that is to be found in Shakespear or Milton, are, I should hardly think,
in good earnest. But I do not therefore see that, because this was not
the case, Pope was no poet. We cannot by a little verbal sophistry
confound the qualities of different minds, nor force opposite
excellences into a union by all the intolerance in the world. We may
pull Pope in pieces as long as we please for not being Shakespear or
Milton, as we may carp at them for not being Pope, but this will not
make a poet equal to all three. If we have a taste for some one precise
style or manner, we may keep it to ourselves and let others have theirs.
If we are more catholic in our notions, and want variety of excellence
and beauty, it is spread abroad for us to profusion in the variety of
books and in the several growth of men's minds, fettered by no
capricious or arbitrary rules. Those who would proscribe whatever falls
short of a given standard of imaginary perfection do so, not from a
higher capacity of taste or range of intellect than others, but to
destroy, to 'crib and cabin in' all enjoyments and opinions but their

We find people of a decided and original, and others of a more general
and versatile taste. I have sometimes thought that the most acute and
original-minded men made bad critics. They see everything too much
through a particular medium. What does not fall in with their own bias
and mode of composition strikes them as common-place and factitious.
What does not come into the direct line of their vision, they regard
idly, with vacant, 'lack-lustre eye.' The extreme force of their
original impressions, compared with the feebleness of those they receive
at second-hand from others, oversets the balance and just proportion of
their minds. Men who have fewer native resources, and are obliged to
apply oftener to the general stock, acquire by habit a greater aptitude
in appreciating what they owe to others. Their taste is not made a
sacrifice to their egotism and vanity, and they enrich the soil of their
minds with continual accessions of borrowed strength and beauty. I
might take this opportunity of observing, that the person of the most
refined and least contracted taste I ever knew was the late Joseph
Fawcett, the friend of my youth. He was almost the first literary
acquaintance I ever made, and I think the most candid and
unsophisticated. He had a masterly perception of all styles and of
every kind and degree of excellence, sublime or beautiful, from Milton's
_Paradise Lost_ to Shenstone's _Pastoral Ballad,_ from Butler's
_Analogy_ down to _Humphrey Clinker._ If you had a favourite author, he
had read him too, and knew all the best morsels, the subtle traits, the
capital touches. 'Do you like Sterne?' 'Yes, to be sure,' he would
say; 'I should deserve to be hanged if I didn't!' His repeating some
parts of _Comus_ with his fine, deep, mellow-toned voice, particularly
the lines, 'I have heard my mother Circe with the Sirens three,' etc.,
and the enthusiastic comments he made afterwards, were a feast to the
ear and to the soul. He read the poetry of Milton with the same fervour
and spirit of devotion that I have since heard others read their own.
'That is the most delicious feeling of all,' I have heard him explain,
'to like what is excellent, no matter whose it is.' In this respect he
practised what he preached. He was incapable of harbouring a sinister
motive, and judged only from what he felt. There was no flaw or mist in
the clear mirror of his mind. He was as open to impressions as he was
strenuous in maintaining them. He did not care a rush whether a writer
was old or new, in prose or in verse--'What he wanted,' he said, 'was
something to make him think.' Most men's minds are to me like musical
instruments out of tune. Touch a particular key, and it jars and makes
harsh discord with your own. They like _Gil Blas,_ but can see nothing
to laugh at in _Don Quixote:_ they adore Richardson, but are disgusted
with Fielding. Fawcett had a taste accommodated to all these. He was
not exceptious. He gave a cordial welcome to all sort, provided they
were the best in their kind. He was not fond of counterfeits or
duplicates. His own style was laboured and artificial to a fault, while
his character was frank and ingenuous in the extreme. He was not the
only individual whom I have known to counteract their natural
disposition in coming before the public, and by avoiding what they
perhaps thought an inherent infirmity, debar themselves of their real
strength and advantages. A heartier friend or honester critic I never
coped withal. He has made me feel (by contrast) the want of genuine
sincerity and generous sentiment in some that I have listened to since,
and convinced me (if practical proof were wanting) of the truth of that
text of Scripture--'That had I all knowledge and could speak with the
tongues of angels, yet without charity I were nothing!' I would rather
be a man of disinterested taste and liberal feeling, to see and
acknowledge truth and beauty wherever I found it, than a man of greater
and more original genius, to hate, envy, and deny all excellence but my
own--but that poor scanty pittance of it (compared with the whole) which
I had myself produced!

There is another race of critics who might be designated as the _Occult
School_--_vere adepti._ They discern no beauties but what are concealed
from superficial eyes, and overlook all that are obvious to the vulgar
part of mankind. Their art is the transmutation of styles. By happy
alchemy of mind they convert dross into gold--and gold into tinsel.
They see farther into a millstone than most others. If an author is
utterly unreadable, they can read him for ever: his intricacies are
their delight, his mysteries are their study. They prefer Sir Thomas
Browne to the _Rambler_ by Dr. Johnson, and Burton's _Anatomy of
Melancholy_ to all the writers of the Georgian Age. They judge of works
of genius as misers do of hid treasure--it is of no value unless they
have it all to themselves. They will no more share a book than a
mistress with a friend. If they suspected their favourite volumes of
delighting any eyes but their own, they would immediately discard them
from the list. Theirs are superannuated beauties that every one else
has left off intriguing with, bedridden hags, a 'stud of nightmares.'
This is not envy or affectation, but a natural proneness to singularity,
a love of what is odd and out of the way. They must come at their
pleasures with difficulty, and support admiration by an uneasy sense of
ridicule and opposition. They despise those qualities in a work which
are cheap and obvious. They like a monopoly of taste and are shocked at
the prostitution of intellect implied in popular productions. In like
manner, they would choose a friend or recommend a mistress for gross
defects; and tolerate the sweetness of an actress's voice only for the
ugliness of her face. Pure pleasures are in their judgment cloying and

An ounce of sour is worth a pound of sweet!

Nothing goes down with them but what is _caviare_ to the multitude.
They are eaters of olives and readers of black-letter. Yet they smack
of genius, and would be worth any money, were it only for the rarity of
the thing!

The last sort I shall mention are _verbal critics_--mere word-catchers,
fellows that pick out a word in a sentence and a sentence in a volume,
and tell you it is wrong.[6] These erudite persons constantly find out
by anticipation that you are deficient in the smallest things--that you
cannot spell certain words or join the nominative case and the verb
together, because to do this is the height of their own ambition, and of
course they must set you down lower than their opinion of themselves.
They degrade by reducing you to their own standard of merit; for the
qualifications they deny you, or the faults they object, are so very
insignificant, that to prove yourself possessed of the one or free from
the other is to make yourself doubly ridiculous. Littleness is their
element, and they give a character of meanness to whatever they touch.
They creep, buzz, and fly-blow. It is much easier to crush than to
catch these troublesome insects; and when they are in your power your
self-respect spares them. The race is almost extinct:--one or two of
them are sometimes seen crawling over the pages of the _Quarterly


[1] A Mr. Rose and the Rev. Dr. Kippis were for many years its principal
support. Mrs. Rose (I have heard my father say) contributed the Monthly
Catalogue. There is sometimes a certain tartness and the woman's tongue
in it. It is said of Gray's _Elegy_, 'This little poem, however humble
its pretensions, is not without elegance or merit.' The characters of
prophet and critic are not always united.

[2] There are some splendid exceptions to this censure. His comparison
between Ovid and Virgil and his character of Shakespear are masterpieces
of their kind.

[3] We have critics In the present day [1821] who cannot tell what to
make of the tragic writers of Queen Elizabeth's age (except Shakespear,
who passes by prescriptive right), and are extremely puzzled to reduce
the efforts of their 'great and irregular' power to the standard of
their own slight and showy common-places. The truth is, they had better
give up the attempt to reconcile such contradictions as an artificial
taste and natural genius; and repose on the admiration of verses which
derive their odour from the scent of rose leaves inserted between the
pages, and their polish from the smoothness of the paper on which they
are printed. They, and such writers as Decker, and Webster, Beaumont
and Fletcher, Ford and Marlowe, move in different orbits of the human
intellect, and need never jostle.

[4] The intelligent reader will be pleased to understand that there is
here a tacit allusion to Squire Western's significant phrase of _Hanover

[5] Of the two the latter alternative is more likely to happen. We
abuse and imitate them. They laugh at, but do not imitate us.

[6] The title of _Ultra-Crepidarian critics_ has been given to a variety
of this species.



These little things are great to little man. --Goldsmith.

The great and the little have, no doubt, a real existence in the nature
of things; but they both find pretty much the same level in the mind of
man. It is a common measure, which does not always accommodate itself
to the size and importance of the objects it represents. It has a
certain interest to spare for certain things (and no more) according to
its humour and capacity; and neither likes to be stinted in its
allowance, nor to muster up an unusual share of sympathy, just as the
occasion may require. Perhaps, if we could recollect distinctly, we
should discover that the two things that have affected us most in the
course of our lives have been, one of them of the greatest, and the
other of the smallest possible consequence. To let that pass as too
fine a speculation, we know well enough that very trifling circumstances
do give us great and daily annoyance, and as often prove too much for
our philosophy and forbearance, as matters of the highest moment. A
lump of soot spoiling a man's dinner, a plate of toast falling in the
ashes, the being disappointed of a ribbon to a cap or a ticket for a
ball, have led to serious and almost tragical consequences. Friends not
unfrequently fall out and never meet again for some idle
misunderstanding, 'some trick not worth an egg,' who have stood the
shock of serious differences of opinion and clashing interests in life;
and there is an excellent paper in the _Tatler,_ to prove that if a
married couple do not quarrel about some point in the first instance not
worth contesting, they will seldom find an opportunity afterwards to
quarrel about a question of real importance. Grave divines, great
statesmen, and deep philosophers are put out of their way by very little
things: nay, discreet, worthy people, without any pretensions but to
good-nature and common sense, readily surrender the happiness of their
whole lives sooner than give up an opinion to which they have committed
themselves, though in all likelihood it was the mere turn of a feather
which side they should take in the argument. It is the being baulked or
thwarted in anything that constitutes the grievance, the unpardonable
affront, not the value of the thing to which we had made up our minds.

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