1798 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Thelwall

David Rivers, in Literary Memoirs of Living Authors (1798) 2:301-04.



This conspicuous character, after a very inferior education, was articled to an attorney; and early in life exhibited that restless, unsatisfied, turbulent disposition, by which he has of late peculiarly distinguished himself. Upon the publication of Pain's Rights of Man, Mr. Thelwall was one of the first to display a zealous attachment to his principles; and he soon afterward began to deliver a course of Lectures of an inflammatory tendency, at Beaufort Buildings in the Strand. Here, evening after evening, he thundered out philippics against the Constitution of his country, with the vehemence of an impassioned demagogue, to the admiration of the vilest refuse of the metropolis. In the year 1794, these Discourses were interrupted by the hand of the Government, and the orator was conveyed to the Tower to take his trial, together with Hardy, Tooke and some other unruly citizens. During his confinement, Mr. Thelwall wrote some Poems, which were published after his release. Having been tried at the Sessions House, Old Bailey, in November, 1794, and acquitted with the other prisoners, his subsequent behaviour has been no less marked by its mischievous tendency, than it was previously to his imprisonment. Under the semblance of illustrating Ancient History, he has continued his political Lectures, and has transferred his pernicious school to different parts of the country. At Yarmouth he was, some time ago, interrupted in a very serious manner in the midst of his oratory, by the abrupt entrance of a body of sailors, who were heated with liquor, and who, actuated by an imprudent zeal, committed several unjustifiable acts of violence upon the auditory. He also experience some riotous opposition at Lynn and Wisbeach.

As an author, Mr. Thelwall made his first appearance in 1787, when he published Orlando and Almeyda, a legendary tale in the manner of Goldsmith, and also Poems on Various Subjects, in two duodecimo volumes. The touching simplicity which is characteristic of true poetry, is, in these wretched pieces, supplied by a plain prosaic diction, which is as remote as possible from it. After this unfortunate attempt, Mr. Thelwall did not seek the press again till the year 1794, when No. I. of his Political Lectures made its appearance. In the following year he published The Natural and Constitutional Right of Britons to Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and the Freedom of Popular Association, the Speech which he intended to have delivered on his trial. His subsequent productions have been Sober Reflections on the Seditious and Inflammatory Letter of the Rt. Hon. Edmund Burke to a Noble Lord; Strike but Hear!!! a pamphlet; an Appeal to Popular Opinion respecting the Proceedings at Yarmouth; The Rights of Nature against the Usurpations of Establishments, in two parts; a particular Account of the Outrages at Lynn and Wisbeach; Democracy Vindicated, consisting of Walter Moyle's Essay on the Constitution and Government of the Roman State, with a Preface and Notes by Mr. Thelwall; The Retort Courteous to Master Burke; and the Peripatetic, in three volumes, duodecimo. His writings abound in common-place observations, and sometimes, in most offensive, petulant scurrility.