1816 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Huddlestone Wynne

Anonymous, "Anecdotes of the late Mr. J. H. Wynne" New Monthly Magazine 5 (May 1816) 307-10.



In the sixth number of your Magazine Mr. MITCHELL has given a few particulars of the late Mr. J. H. Wynne. Perhaps you will not deem your pages unprofitably employed, if you add a few more anecdotes of a gentleman who, amidst all his eccentricities, (and they were abundant,) never appears to have swerved from the high path of morality and the most honourable pursuits; though his career was far from being attended by those blessings which sweeten it, and set us above the allurements of wants, or the commission of deeds unfortunately occasioned sometimes by the unkindness of the world, and the contumely of the unfeeling, — the shafts of which smote Mr. Wynne with all their virulence and doomed him to struggle oftentimes with poverty and misfortune.

I glean these anecdotes of his life from an account of some length, published nearly twelve years ago in a paper whose circulation is in a great measure confined to Wales, and therefore not read by many out of the principality.

I conclude that the facts may be relied on as authentic. As they appeared (somewhat more diffuse) a considerable time back, and, as far as I can learn or recollect, the truth of them has never been questioned, I trust, Sir, you will devote a page of our miscellany to them, not doubting that they will be welcome to many of your readers,

Mr. JAMES HUDDLESTONE WYNNE was of a very respectable family in South Wales, and related to the Wynnes of Wynnstay, in North Wales. His father from misfortune having reduced his circumstances, wisely resolved on a profession for young James, and that of a compositor was determined on, at which he worked with that great and worthy man Benjamin Franklin; but he became disgusted with his profession, and obtained a lieutenancy in a regiment about to set out for India. The irascibility of Mr. Wynne's temper was such, that it for ever kept him in hot water: he had not proceeded far on his voyage before he quarrelled with his brother officers, who would not mess with him, and actually left him behind when the ship arrived at the Cape; from whence he returned to England, and meeting with a young lady of property, entered into the state of matrimony. It was about this time that Mr. Wynne thought of commencing author, and his first application in that way was to Mr. Geo. Kearsley, bookseller, Fleet-street, whose liberality enabled him to support his family. He had two other employers: one in Paternoster-row, the other in May-fair. For the first he was doomed periodically to write rebuses and enigmas; for the others petty fables, childrens' lessons in verse, or to devise new-fangled modes of playing the game of goose. As these two pillars of literature lived at so great distance apart, our poor poet, who had suffered a total derangement of the muscles of his right leg, was almost reduced to a skeleton by his attendance on them. When he had written a dozen lines for a child's play-card, or half a page of a monthly magazine, our poet was obliged to go with his stock of commodity from Bloomsbury, where he occupied an attic, first to May-fair, and then to Paternoster-row; and the remuneration he received for the effusions of his brain was frequently insufficient to procure him the means of existence. Mr. Wynne would often complain in the most severe terms of the want of generosity in his employers. The literary productions of Mr. Wynne are numerous; and, some written for his amusement, full of merit, strongly evincing flights of true genius. His "History of Ireland" the critics of his day belaboured with Herculean clubs — but critics are often more ill-natured than candid: his "Miseries of Authorship" does his feelings much credit — alas! he was able to give a faithful picture of those "miseries;" and his poem of the "Prostitute" (the only publication of his mentioned by our correspondent Mr. MITCHELL) is full of moral and tender sentiments, the offspring of a good heart. Many others of his pieces have much to recommend them, and would not disgrace men of greater celebrity.

Mr. Wynne's eccentricities were numerous, and some of them so tinctured with pride as make their possessor appear truly ridiculous. The noblest minds are ever hardiest in distress; but Mr. W. was insolent in rags, turbulent when in want of a meal, and would insult his best friend for doing him an act of kindness unsolicited; of which the following anecdote is an instance.

Mr. Wynne's figure was below the middle stature; his face thin and pale; his head scantily covered with black hair, collected in a tail about the thickness of a tobacco-pipe; his emaciated right leg was sustained by an unpolished iron: — he wore his gloves without fingers, and his clothes in tatters. In such a trim he one day entered the shop of Mr. Kearsley, the bookseller, who possessed a heart susceptible of every good, and a hand ever ready to relieve distress. Mr. K's shop was the lounge for gentlemen of literary attachment, who stopped to inquire the occurrences of the day; and several persons of fashion were present when Wynne entered, and began to talk in a way that shewed want of good-breeding. His shabby appearance, together with his unbridled loquacity, threw Mr. Kearsley into a fever until he got rid of him; after which, moved at the indelicacy of his appearance, Mr. K., from the purest motives, took a suit of his clothes, almost new, and, with other appendages, bundled them together in a handkerchief, and, with a polite note, sent them after Mr. W. to is lodgings. As this was done without the knowledge of a third person, and in so polite a way, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that Mr. Wynne received the gift with thankfulness, at least with good manners; but the result proved otherwise. He stormed like a madman, and in a rage returned the bundle, though he was covered with rags like a pauper; writing by the porter, that "the pity he had experienced was brutality; the officiousness to serve him insolence; and if ever Mr. K. did the like again till he was requested, he would chastise him in another way." This would have been a wren pouncing upon an eagle; for Mr. Kearsley was a tall stout man — a Colossus to Wynne.

Notwithstanding the preceding, Mr. Wynne was not without his attachment to dress and fashion. A short time previous to his publishing his History of Ireland, he expressed a desire to dedicate it to the Duke of Northumberland, who was just returned from being lord-lieutenant of that country. For this purpose he waited on Dr. Percy, and met with a very polite reception. The duke was made acquainted with his wishes, and Dr. Percy went as the messenger of good tidings to the author. But there was more to be done than a formal introduction; the poor writer intimated this to the good doctor; who in the most delicate terms begged his acceptance of an almost new suit of black, which, with a very little alteration, might be made to fit. This, the doctor urged, would be best, as there was not time to provide a new suit and other things necessary for his debut, as the duke had appointed Monday in the next week to give the historian an audience. Mr. Wynne approved of the plan in all respects, and in the mean time had prepared himself with a set speech and a manuscript of the dedication. But, to digress a little, it must be understood that Dr. Percy was considerably in stature above Mr. W. and his coat sufficiently large to wrap round the latter and conceal him. — The morning came for the author's public entry at Northumberland-house; but alas! one grand mistake had been made: in the hurry of business no application had been made to the tailor for the necessary alteration of his clothes; however, great minds are not cut down with ordinary occurrences; Mr. Wynne dressed himself in Dr. Percy's friendly suit, together with a borrowed sword, and a hat under his arm of great antiquity; then taking leave of his trembling wife, he set out for the great house. True to the moment, he arrived — Dr. Percy attended — and the duke was ready to receive our poet, whose figure at this time presented the appearance of a suit of sables hung on a hedge-stake, or one of those bodiless forms we see swinging on a dyer's pole. On his introduction, Mr. Wynne began his formal address; and the noble duke was so tickled at the singularity of the poet's appearance, that, in spite of his gravity, he burst the bonds of good manners; and at length, agitated by an endeavour to restrain risibility, he leaped from his chair, forced a purse of thirty guineas into Mr. Wynne's hand, and hurrying out of the room, told the poet he was welcome to make what use he pleased, of his name and patronage.

In the year 1780, Mr. Wynne addressed an ode to her Majesty on her birth-day, which was well received; it began thus:

Heard ye the welcome sound of joy?
Heard ye the swelling notes of praise?
What theme like virtue can employ
The lyre, or wake the poet's lays?

Mr. Wynne now began to extend his fame, and several periodical booksellers with great eagerness solicited his literary assistance. The Rev. Dr. Madan had just written and published a very singular book in vindication of polygamy, called Thelypthora. It was composed purposely to extenuate the conduct of a rich merchant in the Borough, a friend of Dr. Madan's, who had married two wives, and (what must appear extraordinary) lived in tolerable harmony with both under the same roof. This book Mr. Wynne borrowed, and returned it again with the following epigram written on one of the leaves in red ink:

If John marries Mary, and Mary alone,
'Tis a very good match between Mary and John!
But if John weds a score — O what claws and what scratches!
It can't be a match, but a bundle of matches.

A hundred more instances might be produced of Mr. Wynne's ready wit and humour, but, as they still live in the memory of his friends, we shall conclude with observing, that his only faults were, negligence with respect to exterior appearance, and obstinacy in refusing to accept obligations, tendered, from the purest motives, by many who were desirous of serving him in distress. His whole garb at times was not worth a crown. — His morals were noble; and those who had the advantage of his friendship received him with a smile of respect, and always left him with regret. At length nature began to decay, his limbs and intellects forsook him; but the affection of his children threw a veil over his infirmities. Upon the great stage of life he acted well his part; and here we drop the curtain.

In the account from which the above is selected, no notice whatever is taken of his unfinished poem called Hengist, an extract from which appeared in your fifth number.

A Traveller.

Swansea, Jan. 1816.