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LEIGH HUNT, 'Extraordinary Case of the Late Mr. Southey', Examiner, May 1817

LEIGH HUNT, 'Extraordinary Case of the Late Mr. Southey', Examiner, May 1817

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THE CRITICAL HERITAGE



Our readers remember the account of his death and funeral a week or

two back. We had not then been apprised of a remarkable circumstance

which took place in the interval, and which was published Saturday

fortnight—a day selected, it is said, by Murrain his bookseller, from

certain unaccountable apprehensions lest the Sunday papers should be

profane on the subject. We appeal to our readers whether we afford any

ground for the man’s alarm.

But to the point. Murrain’s back parlour was lighted up, it seems,

with some large tapers from the chapel of the Escurial, and hung with

black coats curiously turned inside out and painted with escutcheons of

the different legitimate sovereigns. In the middle of it, the corpse was

lying in state; and Murrain, with the exception of one or two private

friends, was left alone with it. Mr. Canning had departed to pay his

respects to Lord Castlereagh. Mr. Croker had gone home to write an

account for the Courier of the ‘admirable’ behaviour of the body—how

tastefully it had disposed its limbs, and what vigour there was in its very

impotence. Dr. Stothard, in a lamentably weak condition, had

exclaimed he was ‘sick of the Times,’ and been taken home to bed.

Nobody knew what had taken Mr. Gifford away; only he was heard

muttering as he went along something about ‘no patience,’ and was seen

to lame a few applewomen with some passing kicks. As to Mr.

Coleridge, he was gone to bed, having been sitting up all night consoling

himself with brandy and water, proving at the same time that it was the

only temperate drink, and that the undertakers (some of whom drank

with him) were the only men besides himself and particular friends, who

knew anything about religion and politics. He begged pardon, we

understand, for using a pun on an occasion so reverent and solemn, and

said that he hoped the company would not think the less of his moral

honesty (though punning, in fact, had greater authority than some might

be aware), ‘but, Gentlemen,’ added he, ‘the undertakers are your only

grave expounders.’ To all these observations, as well as to those of the

other mourners, Murrain invariably said, with all the pithy and quick

indifference yet submission of a coffee-house waiter, ‘Yes, Sir’; and then

addressing him with more familiarity, attempted to shew how sincerely

he lamented the loss of the deceased, having nobody left who could toss

off a sheet with such regularity—upon which Mr. Coleridge always

grinned with great suavity, and resumed.

Well—the public mourners having thus departed, and Murrain,

during the silence of the others, having retired to a corner to do a bit of

his ledger, all of a sudden there came through the street door a furious

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shower of pebbles at the room window, followed by a shout of the word

‘Renegado.’ The voices seemed young—like those of a school for

instance. Murrain said, ‘Yes, Sir,’ as usual, and then turned pale. But he

turned paler in a moment; for the dead body rose with great gravity, and

coming majestically towards him, commenced a speech in these

words:—

‘Mister William Smith, I know very well who it was, among

others, that set the whole world hooting at me in this irreverent

manner. It was you, Mister William Smith; and let me tell you, Mister

William Smith, that it is no longer to be borne. You accuse me of

scandalous inconsistencies, and of having been a Renegado. I shall

condescend to shew you that I, Robert Southey, Esq., Poet-Laureat

and Ex-Jacobin, am nothing but consistency, and that you, Mister

William Smith, are nothing but revilement and insult. In shewing

your inconsistencies, I shall prove the reverse in myself.’ (Here

Murrain being somewhat recovered, though still much agitated,

said, ‘Yes, Sir,’ as usual—of which the eminent corpse took no notice,

but proceeded:)

‘And first, for consistency the first. Not only, Sir, did you make this

accusation in Parliament, but it was “a premeditated thing”; for you

“stowed” (it can’t be a vulgar word, since I use it) you “stowed,” Sir,

“the Quarterly Review in one pocket, and Wat Tyler in the other”;—a

very atrocious thing in a Member of Parliament! What, Sir, a Member

of Parliament put books in his pocket! You may think, Mister William

Smith, that I have been accustomed to put books in my pocket? I have,

Sir; but not for the purpose, certainly not for the avowed purpose, of

cutting them up. They used to be sent me down by the coach.’ (‘Yes,

Sir.’)

‘Consistency 2. You say, in the second place, that I wrote the article in

question in the Quarterly Review. How do you know that? “You may

happen to be as much mistaken” in trusting to report for that matter, as I

was when I took you for a man of candour. “You have no right to take

for granted what you cannot possibly know.” It is I only who have a

right to that sort of gratuitousness, and accordingly (though it is “not

necessary” to do so) I denounce “Mr. Brougham” by name as a writer in

the Edinburgh Review, and as “carrying the quarrels as well as practices

of it into the House of Commons.” “I am as little answerable” for the

review I may write in, as the review is for me; but it is evidently the

reverse with him. “I hope here be truths.”’ (‘Yes, Sir.’)

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‘Consistency 3. The Quarterly Review, Mister William Smith, has no

such “practises.” The Edinburgh names a man now and then, (which

makes it very bitter) and never notices the Quarterly: the Quarterly, on

the other hand, is repeatedly noticing the Edinburgh, and names almost

everybody it dislikes, from Bonaparte down to Mister Bristol Hunt—

which, of course, does away the bitterness.’ (Here Murrain ventured to

look a little sceptical.)

‘Consistency 4. The question, as respects the Quarterly Review, is

not who wrote the paper which happens to have excited Mr. William

Smith’s displeasure, but whether the facts which are there stated are

true, the quotations accurate, and the inferences just. This is clearly not

the case with your statements, Mister William Smith, your quotations,

and your inferences; for you come forward in your own name, which is

very atrocious; whereas what I write in the Quarterly Review is

anonymous, which of course ought to be as great a shield against, as it is

a weapon for, personalities. “I hope here be truths.”’ (‘Yes, Sir.’)

‘Consistency 5. Now, Sir, as to Wat Tyler. You knew that that book

was published without my consent—that it must have been obtained

from me by infamous means—that I had long abjured its opinions—

“that the transaction bore upon its face every character of baseness and

malignity.” And yet you quoted it, and yet you contrasted it with the

opinions I hold at present! Why, Sir, have you not lived long enough to

know that these sort of quotations and contrasts are never allowable

but against such persons as Cobbett and Bonaparte? The Quarterly

Review may contrast Cobbett’s past and present opinions, as much as it

pleases; and we are all at liberty to taunt Bonaparte with his old name of

Brutus; but us! us!—I shudder to think of the unfairness.’ (Here Murrain

shrugged his shoulders.)

‘Consistency 6. Sir, I am ashamed for you. You may smile, but I repeat

it; I am ashamed for you, and really wish—I mean to say, think—that

you would recall your charges if possible. As to myself, “I never felt

either shame or contrition” for my opinions. It is for those who have

adopted them, to feel it—not for me, who have abandoned. Mark that.

It is particularly incumbent on them too to feel so ashamed, if my

writings had any influence in assisting the adoption; for I have now

changed, and warned them off. Mark that also.’ (Murrain almost

jumped.)

‘Consistency 7. That book, Mister William Smith, was written

when I was a boy, and a very excellent boy too. (I was also—see my

Poems—a very pretty boy; but let that rest.) The book is full of errors, I

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SOUTHEY



allow; but in me, such errors “bear no indication of an ungenerous

spirit or of a malevolent heart.” It was written when such opinions

exposed people “to personal danger”—which in me was true boldness.

It was written “in disregard of all worldly considerations”—which in

me was amiable and noble, not riotous desperation. It was written

“when republicanism was confined to a very small number of the

educated classes”—which, together with my subsequent conduct,

shewed my selectness of taste and eternal freedom from vulgarity.

Finally, Mister William, it was written “when a spirit of antijacobinism

was predominant, which I cannot characterize more truly than by

saying, that it was as unjust and intolerant, though not quite as

ferocious as the jacobinism of the present day.” This is manifest upon

the bare mention of a few names. At that time, jacobinism, besides

myself and friends, was confined to Danton, Marat, Robespierre, and

a few other over-zealous people: it denounced kings in the lump,

particularly certain kings (see my friend Landor’s poem)—it preached

open sedition, rebellion, and total changes—wished to decapitate

whole assemblies here, and actually did it in France—all which shews

that it acted from real zeal, though misguided; but in the present day,

there are scarcely any but contemptible half-jacobins, fellows,

forsooth, who tattle about their legal rights, mere anarchists in secret,

skulking knaves from whom it is difficult to muster up a single

desperado, and then only among the naked and the hungry. Are we,

the old, welleducated, daring jacobins, who followed the opinions of

the French Revolution “with ardour, wherever they led,” to be

compared with constitutional dastards like these!’ (Here Murrain, as

the phrase is, was dumb-founded.)

‘Consistency 8. And yet, Sir, you accuse me of attributing “bad

motives to men merely for holding now the same doctrines which I

myself formerly professed”; and you add that I exhibit “the malignity

and baseness of a renegado.” (Here the departed orator became very

red.) Sir, I never attributed those motives to men merely for what you

say; I have attributed them also to men who never professed half of what

I did, and I have called the Reformers, in a lump, “no better than housebreakers.”

‘Consistency 9. So, Sir, if you call me Renegado, I refute the charge by

saying that it is “false”; and I teach you how to be “coarse and insulting”

another time, by letting you know that you are a “reviler,” a

premeditated stower of books in your pocket, an accuser of the absent,

an assaulter of the unprotected, “a gross and wanton insulter,”

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“disgraceful speaker,” a “sober opponent of your country’s cause,”

“foul asperser,” a “slanderer,” a “retail” dealer to the “panders of malice

and pioneers of rebellion,” a forgetter of “your Parliamentary character

and of the decencies between man and man,” a “calumniator, a—what

shall I say—” a certain Mister William Smith!’

(Here Murrain began to feel a sort of lethargy, and put his hand to his

head; upon which the didactic dust and ashes proceeded:)

‘Nay, Sir, salve the mark as you will, it is ineffaceable—you must bear

it with you to your grave.’ (At this part of his speech the departed

Christian, who as Mr. Coleridge says knows his duty too well to

retaliate, looked quite delighted; and gradually becoming more so,

exclaimed at last, ‘And now, Sir, let me speak a little of myself!’)

At this announcement, by which it appears that the short memories

of the witty accompany them to the grave, Murrain fairly dropped his

head on the back of the chair, and began snoring; but the deceased

Member of the Royal Spanish Academy took it only for a fainting fit

accompanied with groans, and smilingly continued.

In consequence however of Murrain’s lethargy, and of a similar

attack which seized the other mourners in spite of repeated pinches of

snuff, this part of his speech has not properly transpired. But it can be

gathered with certainty that he talked a long while about his being right

on every possible point in morals, politics, and religion—that he made a

sudden transition from his ‘retirement’ to the ‘mail-coach,’ and from his

‘books’ to ‘spinning engines’ (at which latter, by the bye, one of the

mourners laughed in his sleep); and that, after insisting it was the People

and not the Government, the Reformers and not Croker and

Castlereagh, who stood in need of reformation, he said, somewhat

mysteriously (Consistency 9) that the said Government should not

neglect its ‘duties,’ especially ‘its first duty’ of enlightening the ‘worse

than heathen ignorance’ of the poor, nor leave the brave defenders of

their country unprovided for, nor suffer whole districts to lie waste

while multitudes were famishing. These were certainly odd evidences

of a Government in no need of reform; but a caput mortuum1 may be

allowed to wander a little. He also, in expressing his agreement in

many things with that excellent person, Mr. Owen of Lanark,

confessed notwithstanding, in a happy Latin phrase, that he differed

‘toto coelo’2 from him in one main point, which was (Consistency 10)

that building the justice and happiness of society upon any other

foundation than that of believing in the indispensability of faith and

1



2



Pun: ‘A corpse; a worthless person’.



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‘Completely’.



SOUTHEY



the flames of eternal punishment, was building upon sand. As to the

press, he said, with great agitation, that it ‘must be curbed, and kept

curbed’—that ‘if the laws were not at present effectual, they should be

made so’; and that he mentioned all this out of pure regard to liberty and

equal dealing, though he knew ‘how grossly and impudently his

meaning would be misrepresented’—a fancy in which we may venture

to assure him he will find himself mistaken. It must not be omitted also

that the ingenious body politic, who is not a jot more malicious now he

is dead than when alive, took particular pains to impress on the

perverted understanding of the imaginary Unitarian before him, the

necessity of restoring the whole power of the Church Establishment;

nor, what is very curious, that he ended one of his instructive paragraphs

to Government (for he never quits his claim to be didactic to all about

him) with a recommendation to remedy ‘the worst grievance which

exists’—namely, ‘the enormous expenses, the chicanery, and the ruinous

delays of the law.’ We trust the Chancellor will take the hint from a

quarter so solemn, and manage his re-considerations and injunctions

better in future.

The conclusion of the speech luckily was heard by all present, for just

as the deceased came to it, he hemmed two or three times with

prodigious loudness, and thus wound up his peroration:

‘How far the name of Southey will be immortal, time will decide; and

I have no doubt, decide as he has done himself. I shall not perish, that’s

certain; I shall have lives of me “always prefixed to my works,” and

“transferred to literary histories, and to the biographical dictionaries,

not only of this, but of other countries.” It strikes me also that I shall be

in all accounts of eminent men, in indexes, catalogues, lists, references,

quotations, extracts, choice flowers, and other reminiscences of infinite

sorts, both here, herafter, and everywhere. There it will be related,

among other excellent traits, that I lived in the bosom of my family

(which of course nobody else does), and “in absolute retirement” (which

is a merit in me, though not in others). There it will be related also that in

all my writings I “breathed the same abhorrence of oppression and

immorality” (see my odes for and against despots), “the same spirit of

devotion” (see my song, joking about Death on the White Horse), and

the same ardent wishes for the amelioration of mankind (see Wat Tyler

and the Quarterly Review). There, furthermore, it will be said that the

“only charge which malice could bring against him was”—not that I

charged others with bad motives for thinking half of what I did myself,

nor that I wrote all sorts of personal, intolerant, and arbitrary things

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under cover of the Quarterly Review—but that I grew older as most

people do, and altered my opinions as many (silly) people do not. Finally,

there it will be said that “in an age of personality, I abstained from

satire,” with the small exception of the instances just mentioned; and

that the “only occasion on which I condescended to reply” instead of

attack anonymously, was when a certain Mister in Parliament—namely

you, Mister William Smith—was base, mean, odious, foolish, peevish,

egotistical, and atrocious enough to attack me openly.’

So saying, to the great apparent satisfaction of himself and relief of

poor Murrain, the posthumous orator returned majestically to his bier,

and adjusting his repose with a greater and more Caesarean dignity than

ever Liston did on a like occasion, gave one look around him of mixed

triumph and contempt, and relapsed into his proper mortality.

Peace be to his shade.



80. Unsigned notice, Monthly Review

June 1817, n.s. lxxxiii, 223–4



Mr. William Smith, the Member for Norwich, whose liberal principles

are well known, and acknowledged even by his opponents, is reported

to have lately read in the House a passage from Mr. Southey’s poem of

Wat Tyler, in which the rights of equality are strongly enforced; and then

to have contrasted it with another quotation attributed to the same

author, selected from a recent number of a periodical work, of a

tendency directly opposite, and vehemently abusing those who still hold

any of Mr. S.’s former opinions. At the end of six weeks from the

commission of this offence, Mr. Southey issued forth a letter of

vindication; in which, as he terms it, he purposes to treat ‘his

calumniator with just and memorable severity.’ With regard to the

passage from the periodical work, he endeavours to shelter himself from

responsibility because that publication is anonymous, and report, which

may be mistaken, is the only authority by which any particular paper

can be attributed to one person or to another. This defence we should be

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inclined to allow in its full force, were not the antient and established

rule of secrecy in periodical criticism now so much disregarded, and the

names of the contributors to the publication in question circulated with

every degree of notoriety. Mr. Southey must therefore be contented to

take the consequences of the exposure which has been courted.—He

enters into a laboured defence of his gradual change from ‘the political

opinions which the French revolution scattered throughout Europe,’ to

those which he now holds; and, in a strain of alternate defence and

abuse, he remarks on the production which has created so much notice.

This is surely unnecessary. Mr. Smith does not find fault with the work,

nor with Mr. Southey for changing his political creed: but it is the

virulence with which Mr. Southey visits those who differ from his

present sentiments, and who avow opinions if not entirely, at least

nearly, the same with those which he formerly professed, that has called

forth the observation and excited the disgust not only of Mr. William

Smith, but of every other moderate man.

It is ludicrous, while Mr. S. disclaims ‘the habit of egotism,’ to observe

the numberless instances of inordinate vanity with which these fortyfive pages are filled. We lately had occasion to notice this vice in one of

his laurelled poems; and, from its reappearance in prose, we fear that it

is a rooted habit. The concluding passage, in which he writes a page in

his own history, and proclaims the imperishable nature of his

productions and his name,—in which, in short, he is ‘his own glass, his

own trumpet, his own chronicle,’—forms a climax of self-conceit that

has no parallel.



254



81. Unsigned notice, New Monthly Magazine

June 1817, vii, 444



One of the few defences of Southey.



The argumentum ad hominem1 was never more successfully applied

than in this admirable epistle, and upon the whole the public may be

grateful to the Member for Norwich in having been the occasion of so

spirited an exposition. The poet-laureat has satisfactorily vindicated

himself from the illiberal charges of apostacy; and he has done it with

candour, in acknowledging the youthful errors which he held in

common with numbers who have since seen reason to change their

opinions on political subjects. We should gladly have made extracts

from Mr. Southey, particularly of those parts which illustrate his own

biography, did not the length of the passages lay a restraint upon our

inclination in this respect: and we could not with propriety attempt any

thing like an abridgment.

1



‘Argument directed at the character of the man’.



255



82. George Ticknor meets Southey

18 May 1817



Ticknor (1791–1871), Professor of Belles-Lettres and French and

Spanish at Harvard University from 1819 to 1835, travelled

extensively in Europe. This extract from his Life, Letters, and

Journals (2 vols, 1876), i, pp. 135–6, records his first meeting with

Southey.



This evening, by a lucky accident, I went earlier than usual to Miss

Williams’s, and found there, by another mere accident, Southey….

There was little company present, and soon after I went in I found myself

in a corner with him, from which neither of us moved until nearly

midnight. He is, I presume, about forty-five, tall and thin, with a figure

resembling the statues of Pitt, and a face by no means unlike his. His

manners are a little awkward, but the openness of his character is so

great that this does not embarrass him. He immediately began to talk

about America, and particularly the early history of New England, with

which he showed that sort of familiarity which I suppose characterizes

his knowledge wherever he has displayed it. Of Roger Williams and

John Eliot I was ashamed to find that he knew more than I did. Roger

Williams, he thought, deserved the reputation which Penn has obtained,

and Eliot he pronounced one of the most extraordinary men of any

country. Once, he said, he had determined to write a poem on the war

and character of King Philip, and at that time studied the Indian history

and manners which he thinks highly poetical. So near has the Plymouth

Colony come to being classical ground! While engaged in these

researches, and as he was once travelling in a post-chaise to London, he

bought at a stall in Nottingham, Mather’s Magnalia, which he read all

the way to town, and found it one of the most amusing books he had

ever seen. Accident and other occupations interrupted these studies, he

said, and he has never taken them up again. He had read most of our

American poetry, and estimated it more highly than we are accustomed

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to, though still he did not praise it foolishly. Barlow’s Columbiad,

Dwight’s Conquest of Canaan, McFingal, etc., were all familiar to him,

and he not only spoke of them with discrimination, but even repeated

some lines from them in support of his opinion of their merits. By

accident we came upon the review of Inchiquin, which, he said, was

written in a bad spirit; and he added that he had seldom been so

chagrined or mortified by any event of his literary life, as by being

thought its author, though he should rather have written the review than

the New York answer to it…. He talked with me about the Germans

and their literature a good deal, and said if he were ten years younger he

would gladly give a year to learn German, for he considered it now the

most important language, after English, for a man of letters; and added

with a kind of decision which showed he had thought of the subject, and

received a good deal of information about it, that there is more

intellectual activity in Germany now than in any other country in the

world. In conversation such as this three hours passed very quickly

away, and when we separated, I left him in the persuasion that his

character is such as his books would represent it,—simple and

enthusiastic, and his knowledge very various and minute.



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