1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Maginn

Robert Carruthers, in Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, 3rd ed. (1876; 1879) 8:175-76.



WILLIAM MAGINN (1793-1842), one of the most distinguished periodical writers of his day, a scholar and wit, has left scarcely any permanent memorial of his genius or acquirements. He was born at Cork, and at an early period of life assisted his father in conducting an academy in that city. He received his degree of L.L.D. in his twenty-fourth year. In 1819 Maginn commenced contributing to Blackwoods Magazine. His papers were lively, learned, and libelous — an alliterative combination which may be applied to nearly all he wrote. He was a keen political partisan, a Tory of the old Orange stamp, who gave no quarter to an opponent. At the same time, there was so much scholarly wit and literary power about Maginn's contributions, that all parties read and admired him. For nine years he was one of the most constant writers in Blackwood, and his Odoherty papers (prose and verse) were much admired. He had removed to London in 1823, and adopted literature as a profession. In 1824 Mr. Murray the publisher commenced a daily newspaper, The Representative. Mr. Disraeli was reported to be editor, but he has contradicted the statement. He was then too young to be intrusted with such a responsibility. Maginn, however, was engaged as foreign or Paris correspondent. His residence in France was short; The Representative soon went down, and Maginn returned to London to "spin his daily bread out of his brains." He was associated with Dr. Giffard in conducting The Standard newspaper, and when Fraser's Magazine was established in 1830, he became one of its chief literary supporters. One article in this periodical, a review of Berkeley Castle, led to a hostile meeting between Maginn and the Hon. Grantley Berkeley. Mr. Berkeley had assaulted Fraser, the publisher of the offensive criticism, when Maginn wrote to him, stating that he was the author. Hence the challenge and the duel. The parties exchanged shots three several times, but without any serious results. Happily, such scenes and such literary personalities have passed away. The remainder of Maginn's literary career was irregular. Habits of intemperance gained ground upon him; he was often arrested and in jail; but his good-humour seems never to have forsaken him. He wrote a series of admirable Shakspeare papers of Blackwood in 1837, and in the following year he commenced a series of Homeric ballads, which extended to sixteen in number. In 1842 he was again in prison, and his health gave way. One of his friends wrote to Sir Robert Peel, acquainting him with the lamentable condition of Dr. Maginn, and the minister took steps for the relief of the poor author, at the same time transmitting what has been termed a "splendid gift," but which Maginn did not live to receive. He died on the 29th of August 1842. The sort of estimation in which he was held by his contemporaries may be gathered from the following rhyming epitaph on him by Lockhart:

Here, early to bed, lies kind William Maginn,
Who with genius, wit, learning, life's trophies to win,
Had neither great lord, nor rich cit of his kin,
Nor discretion to set himself up as to tin;
So, his portion soon spent, like the poor heir of Lynn,
He turn'd author, while yet was not beard on his chin;
For your Tories his fine Irish brains he would spin;
Who received prose and rhyme with a promising grin,
"Go ahead, you queer fish, and more power to your fin!"
But to save from starvation, stirr'd never a pin.
Light for long was his heart, though his breeches were thin,
Else his acting, for certain, was equal to Quin;
But at last he was beat, and sought help from this bin,
(All the same to the Doctor, from claret to gin),
Which led swiftly to gaol, with consumption therein.
It was much, when the bones rattled loose in his skin,
He got leave to die here, out of Babylon's din,
Barring drink and the girls, I ne'er heard of a sin,
Many worse, better few, than bright, broken Maginn.