The man who in some golden eventide has walked along the shores of the Great Deep, and watched the sun, after a day of darkness and tempest, gradually sinking in the horizon, until at length its bright disc is hidden altogether in the blue caverns of the ocean, must possess a bosom indeed cold, if he muses not a while on the scene which he has just witnessed. Around him roll the waves, no longer crested with the sunshine, but bearing on their brows the dark shadow of the coming night; before his eyes is spread a vast expanse of water, mingling far off in the distance with the heavens, and offering to the contemplative heart a type of the wide waters of eternity. Silence is in the sky, and by the sandy beach; the ripple of the billow is the only sound that breaks at intervals upon his ear. Slowly and solemnly he paces there, wrapt in reflection, and worshipping in thought the majesty of nature. Anon the sky becomes darker, and the stars walk forth like young brides, all beautiful and gay; and lastly, comes the moon, shining as an angel of poetry, wakening up all the fair and celestial feelings of his soul, making him in love with all creation and created beings, and bringing him, for an interval, under that seraph-like and virtuous spell which every spirit has sometimes felt, and which exalts it for a moment to a kindred with things of ethereal essence. And thereupon the man rests and ponders long.
Like the imaginary picture we have drawn, is the course of genius. Like that sun it speeds onward in majesty and splendour; the hurricane and cloud may wrap it from our eyes, but it shines not the less magnificently in its own place; brightness is in its starry path, and power in its footsteps; like that sun again it performs its course, and fades away into the Abyss of Space; like it is followed by the bright moon, a symbol of the fame which survives its departure. For as the moon is the reflection of the sun's glory, so is fame the reflection of Genius, and both are immortal.
It would be difficult to find any one to whom the foregoing similitude would better apply, than to the late William Maginn, so long the leading periodical writer of his day — the kind friend, the affectionate and delightful companion — the man, in all the noblest senses of the word. Crossed, and darkened, and embittered by clouds, as many a sunny day has been, was his career while he lived; sorrow had cast her shadow over his soul; poverty and neglect lay upon him like an eclipse; the Hope, which in the morning of his manhood rose resplendently in the distance, and cast around his path imaginary triumphs, trophies, and applause, had disappeared as he proceeded, and like the mirage of the desert, left only wretchedness and disappointment; one by one he had observed those who commenced life with knowledge and intellect far inferior to his own, with prospects less brilliant, and recommendations less powerful, outstrip him in the race, and bear away the honours and rewards, while to him there fell but a scanty apportionment of either; calumny had added materially to the list of his errors, exaggerating those that were but ordinary, and inventing where she could not find a sin, and sneer and sarcasm from the meanest quarters, had done their worst against his character; his heart had begun to grow old and a-weary of the world, and that innate sunshine of the mind which never deserted him, but was present even in the gloomiest circumstances, scarcely supported him amid the many troubles that sprang up like tempests in his path; — but immediately he was dead, his loss was lamented by universal assent, as if it had been some national calamity; the many who had been politically opposed to him during his whole life, deplored his decease as if one of their own kindred had, fallen; Genius came and wept over his bier; Envy masked her bitterness, and followed among his mourners; even those who had pursued him while living, with slander, did not dare to utter one word of detraction over his grave, and his fame at length arose and hovered about his tomb like the silver moonlight, there to remain while his country has a name, and her language and literature are appreciated. And it might be said of him as truly as it was of the illustrious Agrippa, [Greek characters] — "his death appeared not the private loss of his own family, but the public affliction of the entire realm." Let the fact live, and go down to all posterity. It does more honour to the literary men of the present day than any thing that has fallen within our knowledge for a considerable period.
In our present paper it is our intention to inweave a few biographical memoranda of Maginn, with some critical observations which have been suggested by a perusal of his writings. These are many and diversified, scattered through numerous magazines and reviews, some of which are still flourishing, some extinct, some in the last stage of decomposition, and are, from peculiar circumstances, better known to ourselves than most other readers or writers of periodical literature. Their variety proves the amazing versatility of his mind — their excellence is an emblem of its wealth and beauty. Poetry, romance, and criticism, parody, translation, and burlesque — of these there are enshrined amid the vast collection of his compositions, examples as perfect and splendid as any in the language, and such as if presented to the world at one view could not fail to astonish, to gratify, and to instruct it. With this conviction indeed, it was at one period our wish to draw up a complete memoir for the purpose of being prefixed to a collected edition of his works, and in which might be preserved a picture for posterity of the man as he really was, and some relation of those transcendent stores of knowledge that he possessed; of the illumination of genius which he brought to hear upon every subject, grave or gay, that presented itself to his notice; of the structure of his mind, and the circumstances of his career. Our expectations on this point were sanguine, and seemed likely to be fulfilled. Already did we behold far off in the distance, the works of Maginn (a goodly collection of octavos) taking their place beside those of Swift and Lucian, and referred to as authorities in the canons of criticism, and translation, and historical anecdote, or consulted for their attractions of wit and humour. But on further experience it was found that this wish was of too Elysian a nature to be gratified. Our own avocations in a profession more splendid, stately, and exalted than that of literature, formed the first obstacle to an undertaking which, on examination, it was discovered, would take a considerable time to complete, and interfere more materially than was desirable with severe studies. Booksellers also were inexorable, and were unwilling to enter on a speculation so extensive and so hazardous as a republication of all Maginn's writings. Selections from the great mass were suggested, but it was felt that to engage in such would be, considering the excellence of the entire, thoroughly disgraceful, and dishonourable to the memory of so distinguished a man, and that no one who cared for his reputation with the future age would either counsel such a project, or lend his hand to its support. Other matters also intervened. In biography, as in all other matters, truth should be the guiding star; and to present to the world a portrait of a man's actions, without at the same time showing the rocks upon which he was wrecked, or the errors he committed, is to be a panegyrist, not the writer of a life. It is like the delicacy of Apelles, who painted Antigonus in profile, that he might hide the loss of one of his eyes, and to our mind appears not only an omission but even a crime. It was not in this way the ancients acted, and as they are in all things models of perfection, so ought they to be in this. Throughout the entire range of antique treasures there is but one (the Cyropaedia) which exhibits the hero without a stain; and this, we are told by Cicero, was intended to be the effigy of a just emperor, not the reality of sober truth. For these reasons, therefore, the composition of such a work must be deferred until circumstances more favourable occur for its completion, until the whole truth can be disclosed, and the failings of Maginn traced to their full and foul source; and in the meantime, as some memorial to the man, the following little sketch is offered to supply a chasm in our literary history, and to gratify the curiosity of the many who admire the writings of the Doctor, and still fondly venerate his memory.
There is scarcely a single point of view in which we contemplate the intellectual character of Maginn, that we are not struck with admiration, with reverence, and with regard. As a poet, he has left behind him writings that breathe of the divinity of genius, and would be sure to immortalise his name, had he bequeathed no other memorials of his intellect, realising as they do, almost to the letter, the praise of Proclus in his dissertation on Plato, [Greek characters], the lineaments of poetry in all their lustre! As a scholar he was perhaps the most universal of his time, no subject being unknown to him, or beyond the reach of his reading; far more various in his learning than Voltaire, far more profound and elegant than Johnson; rivalled, perhaps, only by Peter Bayle, or that erudite old man, James Roche of Cork, whose wonderful memory and riches of scholarship, now comparatively unknown, will be the delight of some future time. As a political writer he was once pronounced, by no mean authority, to be "the greatest in the world," and although perfection in that attainment is scarcely worth the ambition of a lofty mind, it would be hard to name any other author of the present time, except Sydney Smith, who was at once so witty, so philosophical, so elegant and earnest in political discourses.
As a conversationist he was known for the liveliness of his fancy, the diversity of his anecdotes, the richness and felicity of his illustrations, the depth and shrewdness of his truths, the readiness of his repartee, and the utter absence of any thing like dictation to those who came to listen and be instructed; "idem loetus et praesens, jucundus et gravis tum copia, tum brevitate mirabilis." Lastly, as a man, he possessed the most child-like gentleness and simplicity, the greatest modesty, the warmest heart, the most benevolent hand, with the most scanty means. From faults he was not free, from wild irregularities he was not exempt. But great genius is seldom perfect; its excesses must be forgiven when they are counterbalanced by fine qualities. "Summi enim," says Quintilian, "sunt homines tantum." The rock upon which Steel and Burns split, the sole blot upon Addison, the only stigma upon Charles Lamb, that which exiled Fox from the cabinet of England, and reduced Sheridan to poverty and shame, was the ruin too of the late William Maginn. But let us draw over it the veil of charity, and remember that he was a man. Let us remember also that he had the misfortune to render applicable to him the bitterest part of the Epigram of Phillipides, [Greek characters].
Originality, the distinctive attribute of genius, he possessed in no ordinary degree; and whether we examine his criticisms or his maxims, grave or gay, his translations or his songs, his tales or his humorous compositions, we shall find that to no one preceding writer is he much indebted for his mode of thought and style. He resembles Aristophanes, or Lucian, or Rabelais, more perhaps than any modern author; he has the same keen and delicate raillery, the withering sarcasm, the strange and humorous incident, the quaint learning, the bitter scorn of quackery and imposture, the grave and laughable irony, the profound and condensed philosophy of this illustrious triad; but the grossness and obscenity, the loose and depraved sentiments, the utter defiance of modesty and decorum, which their ordinary imitators substitute for wit and wisdom, he does not possess in the slightest degree. Nothing can be more sly than his satire — nothing, when he wishes it, more terrific or more scathing; but it is always clothed in the robe of decency, and does not ever disgust. Even Swift has not equalled him in sarcasm, though in the power of irony he may be entitled to more praise, as having preceded Maginn. Read any subject on which the Doctor has written, and afterwards examine how it is treated by other men; then will be seen the superiority of his intellect. For although his view of it be different from that of any other person — an eccentric or a satirical one for instance — he still clothes it with such new light, he illuminates it so brilliantly from the golden lamp of his own intellect, and displays withal such admirable common sense in all he says, that the reader will derive from his odd, hasty, but masterly delineations, a more perfect idea of the matter in question, than from the most profound and laboured, and even learned disquisitions of others. As instances of this quality, may be cited his famous Essay on Dr. Farmer's Learning of Shakspeare, and his still more famous papers on Southey's strange performance, The Doctor. Contrast either of these with any other compositions on the same theme, and then indeed you will be convinced of what we have advanced. For his refutation of Farmer's Essay, which in most peoples' hands would be little better than a dry piece of criticism and archaeological investigation, is as enchanting as a romance; and his Essay on The Doctor displays more learning, more fun, more philosophy, and more beauty, in a small compass, than the Laureate's five volumes:—
Duplex libelli dos est quod risum movet,
Et quod prudenti vitam consilio monet.
So that if ever any man after Rousseau was entitled to Sir William Jones's elegant summary of that fine genius, "whose pen, formed to elucidate all the arts, had the property of spreading light before it on the darkest subject, as if he had written with phosphorus on the sides of a cavern," most assuredly that man was William Maginn.
As a scholar he has been compared to Porson, but, extensive as were his acquirements and deep his knowledge of the dead languages, he did not equal, or indeed approach, that renowned critic. Neither could he have hoped to do so, without devoting a life to the study and his whole heart to the single object — a thing, it need not be added, to be expected from any man in the world sooner than Maginn; for his genius was too noble, his mind too volatile, to chain itself down to such miserable drudgery; and the most dazzling prospects would scarcely have kept him steady in one pursuit for a twelvemonth. But few men, apart from those who are cloistered from year to year in the learned solitude of colleges, and whose especial profession is scholastic literature, possessed a more deeply founded acquaintance with the standard writers of Greece and Rome, or a more extensive knowledge of the best authors in the modern continental languages; and this wealth of erudition it was which enabled him so beautifully to decorate those papers which he composed the quickest, and make them, in the words of Thucydides, [Greek characters] — "treasures for all posterity, rather than exercises for present and temporary perusal." His fine knowledge of the Greek is best demonstrated by his admirable and witty translations from Lucian and his Homeric Ballads, which for antique dignity and faithfulness are unsurpassed by any versions in our language, and will carry his name down to all time with that of Pope; the one being like a sculptor who relies solely on the simple and unstudied grandeur of the naked figure; the other resembling a statuary who enchants every eye by the gorgeous drapery in which he invests the marble, and the picturesque adjuncts with which he surrounds it. Both are entirely distinct, and both inimitable in their way. One is a translation — the other a paraphrase. Those who wish to know what and how Homer wrote, must read Maginn — those who seek to be delighted with the Iliad, must peruse Pope. The first may be illustrated by the Parthenon of Athens, a model of severe beauty, standing alone upon its classic hill, amid the wild olives, and under the crystal skies of Hellas; the second by the Church of St. Peter's at Rome, where every extraneous ornament of price or brilliancy — painting, sculpture, cameos of gems and gold, perfume and stately arras-is added to give lustre to the temple. No one but a scholar could have completed the former — Pope was able to accomplish the latter.
Of Latin translations we do not know that he has left any specimens except some humorous paraphrases of the Odes of Horace, in the style of Swift and Pope; but he has composed several songs in that language, on the humour and excellence of which we need not dilate, as we mean to offer one or two examples before we close. He was versed in Hebrew, he was a master of Italian, French, and German; and so well acquainted was he with the leading writers of these countries, that he could tell you in a moment, and with unerring correctness, the characteristics for which each was distinguished. He was more attached to scholia and scholiasts than might have been expected, and was a most excellent judge of meters. We never found him wrong but once, and our discussions with him on subjects of classic lore were neither short nor unfrequent. He possessed an almost inexhaustible fund of quotation from old writers; but of late years, when his fame and reputation for knowledge were fully established, he drew upon it sparingly; yet the allusions in which he indulges, as if inadvertently, betray the wonderful research of his studies, and render his works worthy of the praise which Fabricius passed upon the Bibliotheca of Photius, "Non liber, sed insignis thesaurus" — "not a book, but an immortal treasury."
His poetical compositions are of the sparkling order of Swift, and possess much of the sprightliness of Lafontaine, without any of the immodesty which tarnishes it. No writing did he ever publish which might make a mother curse his memory for the errors of her child, or husband attribute to him the destruction of a once virtuous wife. All his songs are modest and decorous, flashing with radiant fun, insphering, as it were, the very spirit of jest and humour; and though many are marked by that vein of exquisite libel in which the Dean of St. Patrick's so gloriously shone, we believe the very first to laugh at their prodigality of wit would be the persons who are themselves made the objects of his arrows. But he has occasionally written in a higher spirit, and for grander ends; and several of his more serious lyrics are worthy of a Tyrtaeus, or Burns, or Proctor, the greatest of all living song writers. To one of these we may refer; it is entitled "The Soldier Boy," and runs as follows
I give my soldier-boy a blade,
In fair Damascus fashioned well;
Who first the glittering falchion swayed,
Who first beneath its fury fell,
I know not, but I hope to know
That for no mean or hireling trade,
To guard no feeling base or low,
I give my soldier-boy a blade.
Cool, calm, and clear, the lucid flood
In which its tempering work was done,
As calm, as clear, as cool of mood,
Be thou whene'er it sees the sun;
For country's claim, at honour's call,
For outraged friend, insulted maid,
At mercy's voice to bid it fall,
I give my soldier-boy a blade.
The eye which marked its peerless edge,
The hand that weighed its balanced poise,
Anvil and pincers, forge and wedge,
Are gone with all their flame and noise—
And still the gleaming sword remains;
So, when in dust I low am laid,
Remember, by those heart-felt strains,
I gave my soldier-boy a blade.
Perhaps the English language does not contain any thing more terse or noble: it is worth a hundred Irish melodies, and a thousand Oriental Romances. To this may be added his third part of Christabel, which is a more spirited and weird-like conclusion than the author himself might have drawn, and perhaps it was a consciousness that he could not exceed this finale of the Doctor, which prevented Coleridge from attempting the completion. As a parodist he was inimitable — perhaps the greatest that ever lived.
His manners, devoid of all affectation, simple and unstudied, were singularly engaging. No robe of reserve did he draw round him, like too many men of celebrity, whose silence is perhaps the best safeguard of their fame. None of these absurd misanthropic monkey airs, which almost established the reputation of Byron, and certainly veiled the poverty of his mind, did he ever display. He maintained a certain boyishness of heart and character to the very last, and though his knowledge of mankind was extensive and accurate, he could be as easily deceived, as if he were only a raw youth. There was a snowy candour in his manner, which lent a perfect charm to all he said and did, and the most unlettered person felt as much at ease in his company as the most learned. He was, indeed, as Burke said of Fox, "a man made to be loved;" and seldom has any one passed through such a life as his, without leaving foes to his memory, and enemies to his fame. The real character of the man, so different from the fanciful pictures drawn of him by those who had never seen him, often led people into amusing mistakes, at which Maginn himself was the first to laugh. Well does the writer of this notice recollect the feelings with which he first wended to the residence of his late friend. He was then but a mere boy, fresh from the university, (thee, dear old Trinity College!) with scarcely any knowledge of the world, but with a plentiful store of notions about men and books, which were as inaccurate as those of George Primrose, when he set out on his expedition after fame and wealth, and travelled to London in search of a patron. He had received, from a relative of the doctor, a note of introduction, which he sent with no unthrobbing heart to the celebrated man. In a day or two after, Maginn called at his chambers in the Temple, but the writer was, unluckily, absent on one of those boating excursions on the silver Thames, which he preferred, at that time, to all the enchantments of Coke and Blackstone. He, however, sent a brief note to the doctor, stating that he would visit him on such a day. He went, and was shown up stairs; the doctor was not at home, but was momentarily expected. Many a dreadful picture of the literary lion did he form. He imagined to himself, a tall, reserved, pedantic-looking man, with the grimness of an Irish fire-eater about him, a cold and grave eye, a stoical demeanour, and an artificial stiffness, such as we see in the pictures of those erudite critics, the Scaligers, or Barthius, or Erasmus. He almost feared to remain, so apprehensive was he of the scathing glance with which he was persuaded Maginn would look through his very soul. He wondered what he should say, or how look, in the presence of the celebrated Sir Morgan O'Doherty, whose prowess was acknowledged, not only in the highest walks of literature, but also in the field of honour and of blood. Suddenly, when his heart almost sunk within him, a light step was heard ascending the stairs — it could not be a man's foot — no, it was too delicate for that — it must, certainly be the nursery-maid. The step was arrested at the door, a brief interval, and Maginn entered. The spell vanished like lightning, and the visitor took heart in a moment. No formal-looking personage, in customary suit of solemn black, stood before him — but a slight, boyish, careless figure, with a blue eye, the mildest ever seen — hair, not exactly white, but of a sunned snow colour — an easy, familiar smile — and a countenance, that you would be more inclined to laugh with, than feel terror from. He bounded across the room with a most unscholar-like eagerness, and warmly welcomed the visitor, asking him a thousand questions, and putting him at ease with himself in a moment. Then, taking his arm, both sallied forth into the street, where, for a long time, the visitor was in doubt whether it was Maginn, to whom he was really talking as familiarly as if he were his brother-or whether the whole was a dream. And such, indeed, was the impression generally made on the minds of all strangers — but, as in the present case, it was dispelled instantly the living original appeared. Then was to be seen the kindness and gentleness of heart which tinged every word and gesture with sweetness; the suavity and mildness, so strongly the reverse of what was to be expected from the most galling satirist of the day; the openness of soul and countenance, that disarmed even the bitterest of his opponents; the utter absence of any thing like prejudice or bigotry from him, the ablest and most devoted champion of the church and state. No pedantry in his language — no stateliness of style — no forced metaphors — no inappropriate anecdote — no overweening confidence; all easy, simple, agreeable, and unzoned. Those who had the benefit of his society, know that the likeness here presented is faithful, and limned with truth; but, to those who must take the true character of Maginn from others, and not from their own observation — his towering genius and genial heart. — but who still admire him, even though the image be but faint — it must only be said, in the words of Aeschines to the Rhodians, when they were enraptured by the mere perusal of one of the speeches of Demosthenes, "Quid si ipsum audiissetis?"
His conversation was an outpouring of the gorgeous stores wherewith his mind was laden, and flowed on, like the storied Pactolus, all golden. Whether the subject was grave or gay, lively or severe-profound, or merely elegant — he infused into it such ambrosial ichor — he sprinkled it with such sun-bright wit, as if the Muse of Comedy stood invisibly by, and whispered into his ear — he illumined it with so many iris-like beams of learning, originality, wisdom, and poetry, that to listen to him was like the case of one who is spell-bound by an enchanter. And yet, all was so artless, so simple, so unconcernedly delivered, that it evidently required no effort of mind to enable him thus to flash forth — but that which you beheld was the ordinary lustre of his understanding. Many a happy hour has the writer of this sketch listened to Maginn, as with head leaning back in a huge arm-chair, and eye lighted up beneath his eloquent forehead and white flowing hair, he spoke the words of brightness and wisdom — "Quidquid come loquens, et omnia dulcia dicens." — CIC. AD LIBON. — recapitulating the many anecdotes of Scott and Hogg, and Coleridge and Hook, with which his memory was thickly enamelled; now beaming forth with some witty anecdote, anon with some noble and philosophic saying; and yet never for a moment exhibiting, either by manner, or look, or tone, the consciousness of superiority to other men, but listening with respectful attention to what even boys advanced; the first to hail their remarks with greeting, when they glittered with either sense or humour; most willing to suggest, but never presuming to criticise, or to correct. So that the writer may say of Maginn, as the truly divine Plato said of Socrates: [Greek characters] — "The echo of his words still resounds like music in my ears, and renders me deaf to the melody of other men's conversation." Far unlike the tedious lectures of Coleridge, or the self-sufficient dictations of Johnson, were the conversations of Maginn. Nothing did he ever say for effect, but all for truth, or to give pleasure; for to delight and to profit. — "delectare et prodesse," appeared to be the leading motto of his mind, and he had so profound a contempt for any thing like display, that he shunned talk, when he perceived that it was started for the purpose of drawing forth the loveliness of his discourse. It was not to every one that he opened the portals of his mind; not to mere chance visitors did he reveal his glories. But immediately he did begin, he proved to even the dullest, that no ordinary man was present; he arrested profound attention by his gesture and his earnestness; he charmed every one by his modesty and simplicity; he burst forth, the planet of the assembly, and, like the morning star of the poet, scattered light profusely around him:—
Qualis ubi oceani perfusus Lucifer unda,
Quem Venus ante alios astrorum diligit ignes,
Extulit os sacrum coelo, tenebrasque resolvit. — Aeneid, viii, 589.
When the elegant Aristophanes sought to express, by metaphor, the rapture with which he listened to one of the most eloquent speakers of old, he declared to him that he had spoken roses, [Greek characters]. Perhaps this image was intended to apply to the ornament of his language, and its outward blossomings, rather than to the depth and real value, which, after all, is the truest and best test of conversation. But the words of Maginn were of a higher mould, of a richer texture, of a greater worth; for all he said was distinguished more for value than for tinsel, and he thought with Burke, that the real jewel of conversation is its tendency to the useful, and carelessness of the gaudy. And we do not know any other famous conversationist, to whom the beautiful passage, in which Wilberforce alludes to Burke's discourse, applies with more perfect justness: "Like the fated object of the fairy's favours, whenever he opened his mouth, pearls and diamonds dropped from him." Alas, that we shall listen to him never, never again!
His habits of composition were such as only would suit a man of real mind, and that a granary of thought and learning. For he wrote with rapidity, never pausing over his paper for words or ideas — never resorting to those thought-provoking scratches of the head, in doing which Hogarth (the Fielding of the pencil) has depicted his poor poet; seldom revising or altering what he had once penned, but finishing the subject in an off-hand way, and with a "negligentia non ingrata," infinitely more pleasing than belongs to the most elaborate and polished style. Not of him, indeed, could be said, as it was by Pythias of Demosthenes — [Greek characters] — that his discourses smelled of the lamp. We doubt if he ever transcribed a paper, in his life, from the original rough copy: and Gibbon could not have boasted with more truth, that to his printer were committed the first and only manuscript sheets of his history, than could Maginn, that he never copied the rude draughts of his works. Occasionally, he would sit back in his chair, in the middle of a sentence, and tell a humorous story to whoever was near him, (for he seldom wrote, except in company, and generally with all kinds of noises about him) — or commence a criticism on whatever book lay within his reach, or discuss some topic of the day; but his mind was evidently at work on the subject of his paper, and he would break off suddenly from his talk, resuming his pen, and writing away with the greatest haste. Nor was his mind abstracted with his subject while composing, for he would often hold a conversation with some of his friends, while in the bosom of his task, as fluently, as wittily, and connectedly, as if he were only scribbling, or mechanically twirling his pen up and down. Reference to books he never needed; and when he required a quotation, prose or verse, he had it ready in his memory, without trouble or delay. But his writings, though struck off thus at a heat, lose little of beauty or nervousness thereby, but derive even a new charm from this characteristic — because they plainly appear to be the unstudied efforts of his genius; and the merest reader will at once discover, that it is nature, not art, which speaks. Quintilian, when criticising the philosophic works of Brutus, thinks it a high panegyric to say, "Scias eum sentire quae dicit" — and to speak as he felt was the practice of Maginn; carried, perhaps, in some instances, to a fault. Yet, from his candour, much of his excellence was derived. The leaders which he wrote for the newspapers were usually finished in half an hour, or perhaps less; but the masculine understanding that dictated them, the terseness and vehemence, darting, like sturdy oak trees, in every sentence, the sparks of Wit, or the thrust of sarcasm — these give value to the article, and atone for its haste. The writings on which he appears to have bestowed most care, were the Homeric Ballads; and for the last few years, he was seldom without a copy of the Iliad and Odyssey, in his room, or on his bed. For those translations, indeed, he felt almost an enthusiasm — and always referred to them with satisfaction. As we have mentioned Homer, it may be added that he was a constant student of the Bible, and would pore over its sublime pages for hours. He preferred the Old Testament to the New, and was most partial to Isaiah, whom he called one of the grandest of poets.
Such is a brief character of Maginn. Let us now follow it with a few anecdotes of his life.
William Maginn was born in July, 1794, in Cork. His father was a schoolmaster of some repute, and was the proprietor of an academy, so Marlborough-street, in that city, which was then considered the principal one in the south of Ireland, and liberally patronized by the families of the county. The abilities of young Maginn displayed themselves at a very early age, and were so successfully cultivated, that in his tenth year he was advanced enough to enter Trinity College, his tutor there being Dr. Kyle, afterwards Provost of the university, and subsequently Bishop of Cork. In college he passed through the classes with distinction, gained several prizes and gave rich promise of his future years; and was the reputed author of a poem, entitled "Aeneas Eunuchus," which caused no little excitement, by the eccentricity of its fancy, and the boldness of its thoughts. Returning to Cork, he assisted for some time in the management of the school, and on his father's death, which took place, we believe, when Maginn was little more than twenty; he took on himself the burthen of the entire establishment, and conducted it with singular success. The degree of doctor of law was conferred on him in his twenty-fourth year, an unusually early period, and one which we believe is without parallel in Ireland.
Cork was, at that time, in the dawning of that taste for literature, and scientific inquiry, which has since rendered it so celebrated, and conferred on it the name of the Athens of Ireland. A number of ingenuous young men had formed themselves into a society for the diffusion of knowledge, and of this club Maginn became a member, and soon distinguished himself above all the others for the depth and universality of his reading. To one of his satirical turn, the opportunity for exercising his wit, which the foibles of the various members presented to him, was too tempting to be overlooked-and accordingly we find him, at this early period, levelling his shafts at such of his associates as were the most prominent in absurdity, priggishness, or pretension-and flinging about him epigrams and jests, as wildly and liberally on the small people of the beautiful city, as in after years on the chancellors and ministers of the British empire. But none of these trifles will bear transcription. They are as ephemeral as the boobies who provoked them.
The publication of Blackwood's Magazine, which was commenced in 1817, opened a field favourable to the display of Maginn's talents, and he lost no time in availing himself of so popular a medium for the insertion of his lucubrations. In a communication with which we have been favoured by Dr. Moir of Musselburgh, the far-famed Delta, whose celebrity as a poet is not more widely diffused than his reputation as an amiable and good man, we find the following amid other interesting memoranda. "Dr. Maginn commenced his correspondence with Mr. Blackwood in November, 1819, and his first contributions to the Magazine — his very extraordinary translation into Latin of the ballad of Chevy Chase — appeared in the number for that month. It was sent with a fictitious signature, as were also his other contributions to the sixth volume of that work, — 'An Epistle to Thomas Campbell' — 'Ode to Mrs. Flanagan by an Irish Gentleman' — and 'Leslie verses Hebrew.' In the seventh volume of Blackwood appeared 'Luctus on the Death of Sir Daniel Donnelly' — the latter part of which from 'Letter from O'Doherty' — and comprehending the 'Ode' by him, 'Letter from Seward,' 'Ulaloo Gol' — Greek and Latin'Hebrew Dirge' — letter from Jennings with 'Dirge,' and from Dowden with 'Song,' as well as 'Speech delivered at the Cork Institution,' I have always believed to be all written by him. To the same volume he contributed the Latin version of 'Fytte Second of Chevy Chase' — 'Ode to Marshal — on his Return' — and I rather think 'Daniel O'Rourke!' Of the last I am not quite positive, nor of the 'Semihorae Biographicae.' (p. 810.) In volume eighth the Doctor contributed 'Semihorae Biographicae,' Nos. 2 and 3, and several parts of Daniel (if that was really his.) The 'Remarks on the present State of Ireland, (p. 190,) were also by him."
To this list we believe we may add "Letter from Dr. Olinthus Petre." (p. 207.) — "Epistle from O'Doherty," (p. 536,) and "Extracts from a Lost (and found) Memorandum Book," (p. 605,) in which there is an ironical remedy for the Poor Laws, almost worthy of standing beside Swift's "Project for eating Children." This remedy is no other than a decoction of cayenne pepper, which is administered to all craving mendicants in a bumper, by a rogue of a French cook, and has such an effect on them that they never again solicit alms or victuals at his door. The plan is put forth with inimitable gravity, and it is added that a patent for the invention is to be taken out by the French cook.
In all these contributions there was a profusion of wit and learning which flashed on the public with a splendour to which they were unused. Scarcely one appeared in which there was not something libellous; but the sting was so beautifully applied, and so mitigated by the surrounding fun, that it was difficult seriously to quarrel with the author; and Mr. Blackwood seemed to take as strong a delight in publishing the sarcasms, as Maginn in writing them. The following extracts from Mr. Blackwood's Letters to the Doctor, in 1820, show how heartily the old man enjoyed a scourging article:—
"Edinburgh, 23 November, 1850.
"MY DEAR SIR — It has been so far fortunate, that this month's has been kept back for the article on Captain Parry's Expedition, as it has enabled us to insert your admirable attack on Professor John, which you will see has not lost any of its points by the hands it has passed through. It was his doctrine and discoveries with regard to freezing, and not heat, which Brewster's Journal proved to be stolen from the Philosophical Transactions, and therefore your notice of his book on heat was altered. The other alterations, I have no doubt, you will approve of, and, to add to the joke, O. P. is baptised Olinthus Petre, D.D., of T.C.D.
"I fear that you will think that too great liberties have been taken with Holt's letter, hot really we felt that they were necessary. I am sure you will not object to such a puppy charlatan as Brande being substituted for Tommy Thomson."
It would seem from the following, that Barry Cornwall was not much in Blackwood's favour:—
"Nothing but your articles would have tempted us to notice, in any direct way, 'the beasts of John Scott's Magazine.' I have no doubt that they will have more attacks on this next number, their object undoubtedly being to tempt us to a warfare, which might bring them into a little notoriety. I see, too, in this week's Literary Gazette, there is a miserable attempt made to attack us. Proctor, as I think I mentioned to you, is now one of Baldwin's set, and he is quite hand and glove with Jerdan, so that I have do doubt this is from the same quarter, and preparatory to something that will appear in Baldwin's next number. Proctor has received a great deal more praise in the magazine than he deserves, and I would not be sorry to see a little which would put him in his proper rank, as a person of an elegant enough taste, but no very great strength or original powers, and more an imitator than an inventor. I saw a good deal of him the two last times I was in London, and I formed a very different idea of his talent from what I expected of the author of Dramatic Scenes."
The Doctor had not at this time communicated his name to Blackwood, nor had he, what is much more singular, demanded payment for his writings. The following extract will show that, whatever was the Doctor's delicacy, Blackwood, with his accustomed liberality, acted as became him:—
"I hope you will like this number of Maga. which I think one of our standard ones. I need not say how much it owes to you, and I cannot say how much l owe you for your most effectual assistance. Your contributions have now been so numerous and so valuable, in the truest sense of the word, that I trust you will allow me to return you some acknowledgment, for I cannot repay you for the kind and valuable aid you have given me. If you will not accept money, I trust you will allow me to send you books, and you would do me a singular favour if you would send me a list of those that would be acceptable to you. It is very awkward of me to ask you to do this; but ignorant as I am of what passes, or what you would most prize, I would not like to send you works you did not want, and I must therefore beg of you to send me a good long list."
In the ninth volume appeared the "Hymn to Christopher North," some more cantos of "Daniel O'Rourke" — "A familiar Letter from the Adjutant" — "A Letter from Dr. Petre" — and "Bacchus or the Pirates," a Homeric hymn, translated into the metre of Sir Walter Scott. "In this month," says Dr. Moir, "Doctor Maginn appeared in Edinburgh in propria persona. From the following extract from a letter of Mr. Blackwood to me at that time, you will see how nearly Dr. Maginn and I were in meeting."
"I have living with me just now, my celebrated Cork correspondent, who pummelled Professor Leslie in such a grand style. He has come over quite on purpose to see me, and, till he introduced himself to me on Monday, I did not know his name, or any thing of him, except by his letters under an assumed signature like yourself. I wish now, my dear sir, you would also call on me, for I should rejoice exceedingly to have the pleasure of seeing you at my house with this very singular man, and some of my other friends, whom I am sure you would like to know. At the same time, I beg to assure you that, I would not for the world press this on you, unless you find it entirely accordant with your own views and wishes. I would not wish you to go the least out of your own way; and so anxious am I that I should owe the pleasure of knowing you entirely to yourself, I have never since you expressed your feelings on this head, made the slightest inquiry either directly or indirectly."
"I have quoted the continuation of the paragraph," adds Dr. Moir, "to show that at this time I was not personally acquainted with Mr. Blackwood, and also that from the admiration of Dr. Maginn's talents, which I had occasionally expressed in my letters to him, Mr. Blackwood held out the opportunity of my then meeting the Doctor, as an additional temptation to my revealing myself. I was then very young — only twenty-two — and diffident to a degree, and it was not for a year after that time that I ventured a flesh-and-blood presentation in the sanctum of Maga.
"I remember having afterwards been informed by Mr. Blackwood, that the Doctor arrived in Edinburgh on Sunday evening, and found his way out to Newington, where he then resided. It so happened that the whole family had gone to the country a few days before, and in fact, the premises, except the front gate, were locked up. This the Doctor managed, after vainly ringing and knocking, to open, and made a circuit of the building, peeping first into one window, and then another, where every thing looked snug and comfortable, though tenantless. He took occasion afterwards to remark that no such temptations were allowed to prowlers in Ireland.
"On the forenoon of Monday he presented himself in Prince's-street — at that time Mr. Blackwood's place of business — and formally asked for an interview with that gentleman. The Doctor was previously well aware that his quizzes on Dowden, Jennings, and Cody of Cork, (perfectly harmless as they were,) had produced a ferment in that quarter, which now exploded in sending fierce and fiery letters to the proprietor of the magazine, demanding the name of the writer, as he had received sundry notes from Mr. Blackwood, telling him the circumstances; and on Mr. Blackwood appearing, the stranger apprised him of his wish to have a private conversation with him, and this in the strongest Irish accent he could assume.
"On being closetted together, Mr. Blackwood thought to himself, as Mr. Blackwood afterwards informed me, — 'Here at last is one of the wild Irishmen — and come for no good purpose, doubtless.'
"'You are Mr. Blackwood, I presume,' said the stranger.
"'I am,' answered that gentleman.
"'I have rather an unpleasant business then with you,' he added, 'regarding some things which appeared in your magazine. They are so and so — would you be so kind as to give me the name of the author?'
"'That requires consideration,' said Mr. Blackwood; and I must first be satisfied that—'
"'Your correspondent resides in Cork, doesn't he? You need not make any mystery about that.'
"'I decline at present,' said Mr. B. 'giving any information on that head, before I know more of this business — of your purpose — and who you are.'
"You are very shy, sir,' said the stranger; 'I thought you corresponded with Mr. Scott, of Cork,' mentioning the assumed name under which the doctor had hitherto communicated with the magazine.
"'I beg to decline giving any information on that subject,' was the response of Mr. Blackwood.
"'If you don't know him, then,' sputtered out the stranger; 'perhaps — perhaps you could know your own handwriting,' at the same moment producing a packet of letters from his side pocket. 'You need not deny your correspondence with that gentleman — I am that gentleman.'
"Such was the whimsical introduction of Dr. Maginn to Mr. Blackwood; and after a cordial shake of the hand, and a hearty laugh, the pair were in a few minutes up to the elbows in friendship. The doctor remained at this time in Edinburgh, at Mr. B.'s house, for several weeks; and was introduced to Professor Wilson, Mr. Lockhart, R. P. Gillies, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Howison, and other prominent literary characters, as well as several leading and influential members of the Scottish bar. The doctor remained in Edinburgh until the middle of July, when he returned home."
The coronation, and the king's visit to Ireland, in 1821, seemed well worthy of commemoration in the pages of Blackwood; and the publisher spared no exertions to make his numbers for August and September worthy of the occasion. In the first-named of these months, we find him writing to Maginn thus:—
"I feel prodigious anxiety about my next number; it is so much consequence that it should be very good as well as very lively. I entreat of you, as the greatest favour you can ever do me, to make the utmost exertions that your limited leisure will permit you. It would have an admirable effect if you could send me an article full of the true loyal Irish feeling which is at present sweeping all before it in your Green Isle. None but an Irishman can do this. At the same time, this is not to prevent there being plenty of the humorous and droll turn of communication, in the Luctus style, as you proposed. The ode and the song every one is delighted with; and a great deal more of the same kind is expected in our next number. [Delta] writes me that he never almost read anything so good; and Wilson and Hamilton were quite delighted with them."
The ode and Song here alluded to appeared in the August number, (p. 94, vol. x.), and well deserve the laughter which they provoked. In the same volume is "Sylvanus Urban and Christopher North," "Expostulation with Mr. Barker," "Adventus in Hiberniam Regis," "The Man in the Bell" — a paper worthy of Victor Hugo, — "Latin Prosody from England," "Treason," "The Sixth Canto of Daniel O'Rourke," "Translation of the Adventus," "On the Scholastic Doctors," "Specimens of Free and Easy Translations," "Ancient National Melodies," "Midsummer Night's Dream," "A Bitter Quiz on Lord Byron's Poem of Darkness," "The Irish Melodies," "Remarks on Shelley's Adonais," with several other short papers, which, according to custom, we do not think worth particularising, as to do so would swell this paper beyond all reasonable limits. In reference to two articles among the foregoing, of remarkable merit, we read the following observations in Mr. Blackwood's letters:—
"On Saturday and yesterday I received all your parcels of the 8th, 9th, and 10th. Both your songs are capital; and I weary excessively for the introduction which you are to prefix. Captain Hamilton was like to die of laughing when he read them; particularly St. Patrick. Any one but yourself, he says, would mar the melodies. We stand so much in need of them for this number, and they stand so little in need of any introduction, that I really must print them now; and the notice of Tommy Moore will do as well with the next number as with this, should it not come in time.
"The Sixth Canto of Daniel is, I think, the very best we have had. It will be a most grievous disappointment, likewise, to me, if I do not receive the introduction and Latin verses by to-morrow evening's post. It is a happy thought to put the conclusion in Latin, as it would be a pity to lose it: and it will, besides, gratify so much all our learned friends."
In the following year appeared, among other papers, in Blackwood, his "Wine Bibber's Glory," of which, as a specimen of his Latinity, we insert a copy here, and when we say that it is fully equal to any thing that Vincent Bourne ever wrote, we do it only the justice to which its merits are entitled:—
THE WINE-BIBBER'S GLORY — A NEW SONG.
TUNE — " The Jolly Miller."
Quo me Bacche rapis tui
If Horatius Flaccus made jolly old Bacchus
So often his favourite theme;
If in him it was classic to praise his old Massic,
And Falernian to gulp in a stream;
If Falstaff's vagaries 'bout Sack and Canaries
Have pleased us again and again;
Shall we not make merry, on Port, Claret, or Sherry,
Madeira, and sparkling Champagne?
First Port, that potation preferred by our nation
To all the small drink of the French;
'Tis the best standing liquor for layman or vicar,
The army, the navy, the bench;
'Tis strong and substantial) believe me, no man shall
Good Port from my dining-room send;
In your soup — after cheese — every way it will please,
But most, tete-a-tete with a friend.
Fair Sherry, Port's sister, for years they dismissed her
To the kitchen to flavour the jellies—
There long she was banish'd, and well nigh had vanish'd
To comfort the kitchen maids' bellies;
Till his Majesty fixt, bethought Sherry when sixty
Years old like himself quite the thing;
So I think it but proper, to fill a tip-topper
Of Sherry to drink to the king.
Though your delicate Claret, by no means goes far, it
Is famed for its exquisite flavour;
'Tis a nice provocation to wise conversation,
Queer blarney, or harmless palaver;
'Tis the bond of society — no inebriety
Follows a swig of the Blue;
One may drink a whole ocean, but ne'er feel commotion
Or headache from Chateau Margoux.
But though Claret is pleasant, to taste for the present
On the stomach it sometimes feels cold;
So to keep it all clever, and comfort your liver,
Take a glass of Madeira that's old;
When 't has sailed for the Indies, a cure for all wind 'tis,
And cholic 'twill put to the rout;
All doctors declare a good glass of Madeira
The best of all things for the gout.
Then Champagne! dear Champagne! ah! how gladly I drain a
Whole bottle of Oeil de Perdrix;
To the eye of my charmer, to make my love warmer,
If cool that love ever could be.
I could toast her for ever — but never, oh, never
Would I her dear name so profane;
So, if e'er when I'm tipsy, it slips to my lips, I
Wash it back to my heart with Champagne!
TOPORIS GLORIA — A LATIN MELODY.
To a tune for itself, lately discovered in Herculaneum — being an ancient Roman air — or, if not, quite as good.
Cum jollificatione boisterosa: i.e. with boisterous jollification.
Si Horatio Flacco do hilari Baccho
Mos carmina esset cantare,
Si Massica vina vocaret divina,
Falernaque sciret potare;
Si nos juvat mire Falstaffium audire
Laudentum Hispanicum merum,
Cor nostrum sit Iaetum, ob Portum, Claretum,
Xerense, Campanum, Maderum.
Est Portum potatio quam Anglica natio
Vinis Galliae praetulit lautis:—
Sacerdoto amatur — et laicis potatur
Consultis, militibus, nautis.
Si meum conclave hoc forte et suave
Vitaverit, essem iniquus,
Post caseum — in jure — placebit secure
Praesertim cum adsit amicus.
Huic quamvis cognatum, Xerense damnatum,
Gelata culina tingebat,
Vinum exul ibique dum coquo cuique
Genorosum liquorem praebebat.
Sed a rege probatum est valde pergratum
Cum (ut ipse) sexagenarium—
Large ergo implendum, regique bibendum
Opinor est nunc necessarium.
Claretum, oh! quamvis hand forte (deest nam vis)
Divina sapore notator;
Hinc dulcia dicuntur — faceta nascuntur—
Socialis potatio! te haud fregit ratio
Purpureo decoram colore!
Tui maximum mare liceret potare
Sine mentis frontisve dolore.
Etsi vero in praesenti Claretum bibenti
Videatur imprimis jucnudum,
Cito venter frigescat — quod ut statim decrescat
Vetus vinum Maderum adeundum.
Indos si navigarit, vento corpus levarit,
Coliccamque fugarit hoc merum;
Podagra cruciato "Vinum optimum dato
Clamant medici docti Maderum,"
Campanum! Campanum! quo gaudio lagenam
Ocelli Perdricis sorberem!
Ad dominae oculum exhauriam poculum
Tali philtro si unquam egerem—
Propinarem divinam — sed peream si sinam
Nomen carum ut sic profanatur,
Et si cum Bacchus urget, ad labia surgit
Campano ad cor revoletur.
From this time until 1828, the doctor constantly contributed to "Blackwood," and the list of his works now lying before us is such as probably no other literary man in the empire could have equalled. In the year 1823, he married; and having given up his school, went to London, with the intention of seeking his fortune in the wide ocean of literature, dreaming, no doubt, like most young men, of the golden isles of Atalantis, to be found in those watery wilds, and like them doomed to disappointment. His celebrity soon procured him literary employment; and from Murray, "the Anax of booksellers," as Lord Byron called him, he received overtures for the composition of a life of that poet, who had just died. Nothing can more clearly show the high opinion entertained by those best qualified to judge of his abilities than this fact. A young man from an Irish provincial town, who had never written a book, and whose name was little known, entrusted with the biography of one of the greatest of England's poets, by one of the shrewdest booksellers that ever lived, is a spectacle not often seen, and Maginn used to speak of it with no little satisfaction. The papers and letters of his lordship were accordingly placed in the doctor's bands, and remained in his possession for some time, but no steps were taken in the biography, and it was finally entrusted to Mr. Moore. It is fortunate for the memory of Lord Byron that Maginn did not write his life; as, instead of the romantic fictions to which Mr. Moore has treated us, in which the author of Childe Harold is represented as a demigod, or something just less, we should have a picture of the man, unvizored and unrobed, in his true and natural colours; his whole heart and life laid bare, as he himself wished them to be, and a record of a career more singular than even the Confessions of Rousseau, and only less profligate than the Memoirs of De Faublas. In the papers submitted to the doctor, there were, as he assured us, in every page, proofs of the utter falseness and insincerity of his lordship, to an extent scarcely credible; and he had gleaned besides, from the most authentic sources, such general information of the life and habits of the poet, as to be better acquainted with his career than any other man in England.
"Although," said he, "I never read the autobiography of which so much has been said, so much of it has been repeated to me, that I know almost the entire of its contents. It contained scarcely anything more than what we already know. The whole object seemed to be to puff himself and run down every body else. Moore's disinterestedness in burning the manuscript has been talked of absurdly. There never was such a humbug. Murray lost two thousand pounds by it."
In the Noctes Ambrosianae, No. XV. we find the doctor expressing his opinion of the papers thus: with a slight variation it is what we have often heard him say: — "One volume of his memoirs, in short, consists of a dictionary of all his friends and acquaintances, alphabetically arranged, with proper definitions of their characters — criticisms on their works (when they had any) and generally a few specimens of their correspondence. To me this volume seemed on the whole the most amusing of the three. The fact is, that Byron never could versify, and that his memoirs and his private letters are the only things of his that I have ever seen, that give me, in the least degree, the notion of a fine creature, enjoying the full and unrestrained swing of his faculties. Hang it, if you had ever seen that attack of his on 'Blackwood' — or, better still, that attack of his on Jeffrey, for puffing Johnny Keats — or, best of all, perhaps, that letter on Hobhouse — or that glorious, now I think of it, inimitable letter to Tom Moore, giving an account of the blow-up with Murray about the Don Juan concern — oh, dear, if you had seen these, you would never have thought of mentioning any rhymed thing of Byron's; no, not even his Epigrams on Sam Rogers, which are well worth five dozen Parasinas and Prisoners of Chillon."
With these sentiments, which clearly show how little enthusiasm he felt for either his lordship or his poetry, the doctor recommended Murray to publish the letters entire with libels, sneers, satires, sarcasms, epigrams, confessions, and intrigues, unmutilated and unasterisked, and merely prefix to the work such information as was absolutely indispensable. Had this been done, the world would now be in possession of the most extraordinary compilation that ever appeared; but Murray got frightened — his great friends came about him, and advised, and wept, and entreated and implored; and the task of drawing up the "Memoirs," taken from Maginn, was consigned to one who, having been a whig all his life, knew best what would please his employers, and expunged all those parts in which they were mercilessly shown up. In a moral point of view, perhaps, we have no reason to regret our loss.
In 1824, the Doctor having been appointed by Mr. Murray, foreign editor of "The Representative," a daily paper, then newly established, went to reside in Paris. That publication did not, however, flourish long, and on its death, the doctor returned to London, where, for a time, he earned a scanty livelihood, by writing for magazines, annuals, and newspapers. In the "Literary Souvenir" for 1829, appeared one of his most beautiful tales, "The City of the Demons." In the volume which preceded it, is another, entitled, "A Vision of Purgatory;" and in the Fairy Legends of Mr. Crofton Croker, was the exquisitely humorous story of "Daniel O'Rourke," and three others, whose names we have forgotten. He contributed principally to the "John Bull," then in its glory, and had obtained so great a reputation as a political writer, that on the establishment of "The Standard," by Mr. Baldwin, he was appointed joint editor with Dr. Gifford. In the same year he published "Whitehall," one of the most wild and extraordinary productions of the day; overflowing with madcap wit and quaint learning, and containing sketches of all the leading characters of the time, from George IV., down to Jack Ketch the hangman. To the last-named office, by an inimitable stroke of humour, he appoints Mr. Tierney, who, having come up to town with an earnest desire to be made prime minister, and having in vain solicited that or some other place, finally, in despair, accepts the office of executioner, and performs the last ceremonies of the law on Mr. Huskisson, who, he tells us, "amid the acclamations of surrounding thousands, died easily and instantaneously." This work is very rare, but it will well repay any one who takes the trouble of searching for it through the old book-shops of London.
This appears to have been a busy period of the doctor's life. From the interesting memoranda of Dr. Moir, we extract the following account of another work of fiction which has been lost: — "Another thing of the doctor's, I remember being particularly struck with; and I am almost certain that it has never been published. I think it was written when he was in Paris, in connection with 'The Representative,' the newspaper which Mr. Murray started in London. You must, of course, he aware, that the doctor was the foreign editor, and, it is said, with a very handsome salary, during the short time that it continued to be published. The manuscript referred to was sent to Mr. Blackwood towards the end of 1827, as I find from the following extract from a letter to me:—
"I believe I mentioned to you that I had got some chapters of a very queer work by Dr. Maginn. He is such a singular person, that I don't know if he will ever finish it; and perhaps I shall have to return the manuscript one of these days. I should therefore he sorry you did not read it, and I send you the whole I have got, with his contents of the intended chapters. How do you think they would do for Maga, should he not finish the book, and be willing to allow them to appear in it?"
What answer I returned to these queries I do not now remember; but have a distinct recollection of setting down the production as a very extraordinary one — full of power, originality, and interest. The scene was laid in Paris, and some of the scenes were very striking, more especially one, where an only and spoiled son, having dissipated his substance in all kinds of riotous living, and descended to all the meannesses of vice, has not yet the moral courage to reveal his lost condition to his doting parents, who resided in one of the provinces, and who believed him to be an industrious and ardent student; and at length throws himself into the Seine, his body being afterwards claimed by them at the Morgue. It would appear that I had kept the manuscript for some time, and that it had been mislaid, although afterwards recovered, as I find allusion to the subject in another letter from Mr. Blackwood:—
"It is most fortunate that you discovered the doctor's chapters, and all in good time. Some weeks ago he wrote me to return them, but in the hurry of one thing or another, I neglected to do so. Last night I had another letter from him, and intended to have sent it off this very day."
In 1830, "Fraser's Magazine" was established, and with the foundation and chief management of that brilliant periodical, Maginn was most intimately connected. Some disagreement with Blackwood, we believe, led to the birth of this new and powerful rival, which soon attained a circulation the most extensive and respectable of any of the London published periodicals. The first three or four numbers were almost entirely written by the doctor and his friend, Mr. Hugh Fraser, one of those clever, well-bred men of wit and honour about town, whom London produces in greater perfection and greater numbers than any other metropolis in the world. The articles being completed, they both sallied forth with the manuscript in their pockets, and proceeded down Regent-street, in search of a publisher. Passing No. 215, the doctor said, "Fraser! here is a namesake of yours — let us try him." They entered the shop — some bright star of fortune that presided over Mr. James Fraser, then conducting them. The terms were arranged, and thus was laid the basis of "Fraser's Magazine." Many persons thought it was so called after the publisher. This was a mistake. Mr. James Fraser, so far from taking pride in the journal which bore his name, never permitted any one in his establishment to call it "Fraser's Magazine." In his books and correspondence, which we have seen, we find it always called "The Town and Country," and it was after Mr. Hugh Fraser the Magazine was designated by the title by which it is known.
A highly popular and delightful feature in this Magazine, was the Gallery of Literary Portraits — the letter-press for nearly all of which was written by Maginn. These were entirely original in plan and execution, and created a sensation in literary circles, not often paralleled. The exquisite sketches by Maclise added not a little to their attraction. As a whole, they are, we think, the most original and sparkling of the doctor's productions; and when we remember that they were hit off at a moment's notice, we shall be easily able to fancy how meteoric was the intellect from which they emanated. Wit was their principal recommendation. "This," as Sir William Jones said of Dunning, "relieved the weary, calmed the resentful, and animated the drowsy; this drew smiles even from such as were the objects of it; scattered flowers over a desert; and, like sunbeams sparkling on a lake, gave vivacity to the dullest and least interesting theme." And we never read them, without involuntarily thinking we hear the doctor speak, for they are perfect resemblances of what his conversation was.
Maginn was now in the zenith of his reputation and circumstances. He mixed in good society — was courted by lords and ladies of rank and fashion, and moved in the glittering circle of the aristocracy. By Lord Lowther, Lord Francis Egerton, Mr. Wilson Croker, and Lady Stepney, he was received with friendship and consideration; and though he lived, bitterly to experience the truth of Dr. Burney's remark — "what Pliny has said of the cinnamon tree, seems applicable to the great in general, 'corticis in quo summa gratia' — nothing but the mere outside is of value" — still the warmest of his admirers must admit, that their subsequent desertion of him may be attributed not a little to his own want of prudence. By Mr. Croker he is thus described in a letter, which we have had an opportunity of seeing: — "On the few occasions of my having the pleasure of being in his society, his conversation was very lively and original — a singular mixture of classical erudition, and Irish fun. There was a good deal of wit, and still more of drollery, and certainly no deficiency of what is called conviviality and animal spirits. I remember on one occasion having heard from some common friend, that he seemed to be throwing away a great deal of talent on ephemeral productions. I took the liberty of advising him to direct his great powers to some more permanent objects, and he told me that he contemplated some serious work, I think on the Greek drama, but of this I am not quite sure. It might have been the Greek orators. I had a high opinion of his power to illustrate either."
By our illustrious countryman, Maclise, he is thus described at the period of which we now write: — "With every desire to do what you request, I find myself embarrassed in contributing the slightest memorandum of my acquaintance with the late Dr. Maginn. Does he not strike you to have been precisely the person, of whom it would be most difficult to convey (to one who had not known him) a true impression? I cannot boast of having seen as much of the doctor, as I was ambitious of seeing; for, although known to him from my first arrival in London, yet, whether from his own, and perhaps my active occupation, the usual separating tendencies and distractions of town, differences of pursuit, &c., our interviews were not after all so frequent as I could have wished; and when we consider over how many years they were spread, any thing I could say of him must, of necessity, assume a tone of the highest panegyric, and I find it difficult to satisfy myself in the choice of any expression sufficiently powerful to convey my idea of his great abilities as a writer, and conversationist, and of his excellent nature as a man. He comes upon my general recollection always crowded round by the most pleasant associations, and I can conjure him up in particular situations. The morning walk of my early acquaintance, and more recently the morning visit, when I had but to listen and be delighted. Indeed his various gifts and brilliant qualities were ever met with prompt acknowledgment, and where wit and wits abounded, one always had the satisfaction of seeing him commanding attention." These were the rosy days of his existence. How full of stern philosophy do they appear, when we contrast them with subsequent scenes, and find him, who, but a brief period before was a visitor in lordly palaces and drawing-rooms, pining away in the gloomy cells and garrets of the Fleet.
Let us resume the thread of our narrative: — We have been favoured by our friend, Mr. Nickisson, the present proprietor of "Fraser," with a list of Maginn's contributions to that periodical; but it is so extensive as to preclude the possibility of printing it. We shall, therefore, only notice a few of the most prominent papers, merely premising that the doctor contributed to almost every number of the Magazine from the commencement down to No. 133, one or two papers at an average.
In the 37th Number appeared the memorable satire of Lord Byron on his friend Sam Rogers; and in the following month, Coleridge's Epitaph on his enemy, Sir James Mackintosh. Both these created much talk, and are among the most interesting literary curiosities we possess. The satire is the very best and bitterest that has appeared since Swift, and fully corroborates the opinion which the doctor expressed in the "Noctes Ambrosianae," before quoted. "I would give a trifle to have seen Sam's face the morning that satire was published," said Maginn. It is reported that Rogers attempted to buy up all the copies of the magazine, but yielded to the advice of a friend, who remonstrated with him on the inutility of such a step. Of that great poet and his compositions Doctor Maginn thought but little, and said that he owed much of his fame to a right appreciation of that glorious line — "The road through the stomach's the way to the heart."
"I do not think Sam Rogers any great poet, notwithstanding all the puffs about him," said a friend, one day, to the doctor.
"That is," he replied, "because you never ate any of his dinners."
The "Fraser Papers" form the next feature of interest and importance in the magazine. Though written on subjects generally of a temporary nature, and every one of them hastily struck off in Fraser's back parlour, over such supplies of liquid as would totally incapacitate all other men from work, realising too often in Regent-street the picture which the classic poet of antiquity beheld in the rosy mornings of Ausonia:—
"Sic noctem patera, sic ducam carmine donec
Injiciat radios in mea vina dies,"
PROPERT. iv. 6.
the doctor and his associate in the task, Mr. C—, (a writer of no mean ability,) have flung into the essays such radiant fun, blended with such sound reasoning, that they seem destined to avoid the fate which overtakes most political writings, and has consigned those of Swift and Addison already to oblivion. They do not, it is true, contain much of what is called "the philosophy of history;" they do not aspire to such august thought as invests the pamphlets of Burke, and will convey them in triumph down to all posterity; for such ends they were not designed or written; but as speculations flung off to win some temporary advantage — to gall some political adversary, or celebrate some triumph of party, they are inimitable, and are impregnated with as much of the true Rabelaisian fire as will keep them vigorous for ever.
In the sixty-first number appeared one of his most admirable things, "The Fraserians," which was soon followed by a paper in the sixty-fourth, entitled "April Fools," into which, as in a net, by an advertisement in a newspaper from a sentimental young Indian lady, possessed of a fortune, and in want of a husband, he drew no less than eighteen fools, all of whom felt so extremely anxious about the fair unknown as to produce no less than one hundred epistles, every one of which the doctor published. We believe Theodore Hook had something to do with this hoax. It was certainly worthy of him.
In the seventy-third number appeared the "Report on Fraser's Magazine," — a paper full of talent and learning, but tiresome from its great length; and in the eightieth number his famous review of "Berkeley Castle." This was written in Fraser's back parlour at the end of the month, when the whole party was heated with wine. It was scribbled off, with his usual rapidity, in about an hour, Maginn having never once taken his pen off the paper until he had concluded it; and on its being handed by the publisher to Father Mahony, the latter said:—
"Jemmy, you had better take care what you do — this seems libellous." Fraser looked at some of the passages to which the priest objected, but merely said:—
"Pooh — we have printed worse; — we are at the end of the month, and it must go in."
"Very well," was the stoical remark of the priest, and the paper was set up in type and published. The result is well-known.
The conduct of Maginn, on being made acquainted with the assault on the publisher was honourable. He instantly forwarded a note to the Hon. Grantley Berkeley, apprising him that he was the author of the article. Shortly afterwards he received a card from Major Fancourt, M.P., on the part of Mr. Berkeley, in which it was stated that he was desirous to see him on particular business. The doctor immediately waited on Major Fancourt, and it was agreed between them — the doctor in the mean time procuring a second — that a hostile meeting should take place in the evening, at seven o'clock. The place appointed was a field in the New Barnet Road, and Mr. Hugh Fraser, his old friend, acted as the doctor's second. The parties were placed on the ground at a little before seven, and on the first exchange of shots Doctor Maginn fired rather high, which induced Major Fancourt to ask whether the doctor had done it designedly not to fire at his antagonist. Mr. Hugh Fraser answered that he did not know. The pistols were a second time loaded and placed in the hands of the parties, who fired again without effect. The seconds here interfered, but vainly. A third exchange of shots then took place, Berkeley's bullet grazing the heel of Dr. Maginn's boot, and the doctor's bullet grazing the collar of his adversary's coat. The seconds again interfered, and the parties left the ground without any explanation, merely bowing to each other as they departed. Both behaved with the utmost coolness and deliberation, and not a word was spoken on the occasion, with the exception of the word of command, and the question of Major Fancourt with the answer. Warrants had been issued against the parties, but, as we have seen, ineffectually.
We have now brought the doctor to the year 1837, when his difficulties began to assume a more formidable aspect than they had hitherto worn. Since his dismissal from the "Standard" his affairs had begun to get involved, and the temporary and fluctuating engagements which he got on the "True Sun," "Age," &c. &c., did but little to relieve him.
But there was another external attraction which made home less agreeable; and as this formed one of the most remarkable features of his life, it would be unpardonable in a biographer not to allude to it — we mean his supposed attachment to Miss Landon. Whatever were the terms on which he stood with that gifted and fascinating creature, certain it is that the strongest friendship subsisted between them, and we should not he wrong if we said, that at least one-fourth of those poems which combine to form "The Drawing-room Scrap-book," while that book was under the guidance of Miss Landon, was contributed by Doctor Maginn. We have been told by one who heard him read, and saw him correct the proof-sheets of that work, that he made no secret to that person, at least, of having contributed much to the Scrap-book; and he used to repeat those poems which he had given to the fair editress, laughing heartily all the time at the little hoax they were playing off upon the public. In more than one of the volumes there are poems with the doctor's name or initials — but this was done to lull suspicion. On Miss Landon's death Maginn was disconsolate, and almost lost his senses for two days.
In 1834 the doctor had resumed his correspondence with Mr. Blackwood, and to the April number for that year, says Dr. Moir, "he sent the exquisite 'Story without a Tail,' which was followed, in May, by 'Bob Burke's Duel with Ensign Brady,' almost equally good." Among his new contributions to Blackwood, Dr. Moir has omitted to notice his "Tobias Correspondence," which was written in a little garret in Wych-street, in the Strand, where the doctor was hiding from the blood-hounds of the law, and is full of the varied experience of his whole literary life. When a friend applied to him for some hints as to how he should write for newspapers, Maginn merely said, "Read the Tobias Correspondence, — there is the whole art and mystery of editing a newspaper." Another, who said to him that he perceived it had been attacked by the daily critics, received for answer, "The reason is, every word of it is true, and my gentlemen of the press don't like that." In 1837, also, were published his "Shakspeare Papers," consisting of some of the ablest and most beautiful dissertations on the characters of our dramatist that adorn the language. They incline a little too much, perhaps, to paradox, but their great ability is universally admitted. Combined with his "Essay on Dr. Farmer," and sundry reviews and criticisms on Shakspeare, which have appeared in Fraser, they form a most valuable and interesting body of facts, surmises, and annotations on our great poet. In the ninety-sixth, ninety-seventh, and ninety-ninth numbers of Fraser was published that strange medley of wit and learning entitled "The Doctor." It was a review of Southey's fantastical work, and the cleverest of any that appeared. No idea of it could be communicated. To be appreciated it should be read.
In January, 1838, appeared the first of the "Homeric Ballads," which were afterwards continued until he had published sixteen. We had prepared a long criticism on this series, but we find we have no room to insert it. The last prose paper the doctor ever wrote was a "leader" for the "Age," in which he recommended summary execution on the Chartist demagogues — the last poetical essay was the sixteenth Homeric Hymn, the conclusion of which was dictated to the writer of this memoir from the death-bed of Maginn. In the same year (1838) he translated the "Comedies of Lucian." As translations they require no praise — but, notwithstanding their excellence, they did not form a popular feature in Fraser, and the publisher returned one or two to the doctor.
From this time until 1840 the condition of Maginn was one of wretchedness. Goldsmith's life, even in his worst days of poverty, could not have been more deplorable. He was arrested and thrown into gaol several times; yet in all his misfortunes he retained his serenity of mind. The following sketches of him, in this last year, are transcribed from some letters written at that period:—
"I have just returned from Dr. Maginn, and am quite delighted at my interview with him. Here is a full and free narrative of it. On arriving at his residence I inquired for the doctor, and was informed that he was out. I was, however, requested to walk up stairs and wait, as he would presently be in. I did so. In a short time the doctor bolted in. I stood up and bowed. He shook hands with me. — Now for his description. He is about five feet nine inches in height, of a slender make; his hair is very grey, and he has a gentle stoop. He is quite careless about his appearance — has a gay, good-humoured look, and is as simple in his manners as a child. He behaved to me with the most perfect friendliness, just as if he and I were of the same age, and all our lives acquainted. He has a slight stutter, and is rather thick in his delivery. He is completely and perfectly an Irishman in every look, and word, and movement. Occasionally, in the middle of a conversation he breaks into a tune, or hums an air of some sort. He is full of anecdote, and possesses none of that dictatorial style which prevails with so learned men, and renders their conversation and company tiresome.
"So much for description. Now for a sketch of what he said. After some ordinary talk, inquiries, &c., he asked me to spend the evening with him tomorrow, apologising at the same time for not asking me to dine, which he said he could not do, as his family are about to go to France, and the lodgings are inconvenient. I felt complimented, and said I should call at seven o'clock. After some further talk be retired to another room, and in about ten minutes came back. I was examining some books on the table, when he said:—
"'Ah, I have no books out at present; all mine are packed up,' and at the same time directed my attention to a side bookcase, where I saw Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and Shakspeare in nineteen volumes, lying side by side. He then told me that he was preparing critical editions of both.
"I expressed my opinion of Shakspeare to him very glowingly, and preferred him to Homer, adding:—
"'I was certain his edition would have a great sale, as Shakspeare was the greatest man the world ever saw, greater even than Homer.'
"To this he merely replied, 'Homer, too, was a master genius.'
"Seeing me take up my hat, he asked me whether I was going in the direction of the Strand, I replied—
"And he answered, 'Well, I am going in the same direction.'
"We then got into the street, when he took my arm, and we proceeded onwards. He told me that he was to dine with Sheridan Knowles, on Friday; and said that having once asked Knowles where he was born and lived, in Cork, he told him—
"'In the narrow passage round by the Exchange, leading from the North Main Street into the South, near Fishamble-lane.'
"He then began to criticise his works. He gave him great praise. He said that—
"'Knowles's real Irish blunders often gave rise to little pleasantries among his friends. Like Goldsmith, all he says has a tinge of the 'bull.' Take two instances. There are two actors here who always play in the same line of character — the melodramatic — and their names are constantly in the bills assigned to the personation of brigands, bravos, pirates, &c. &c., so that there is almost an identity between them in that respect. They are T. P. Cooke and O. Smith. A friend was with Knowles when Smith entered the room—
"'Do you know Mr. Smith?' says he.
"'No,' replies Knowles. They were introduced. Knowles says to Smith:
"'Mr. Smith, I feel great pleasure in being introduced to you. I often meet a namesake of yours — Mr. T. P. Cooke — pray, how is he?'
"The other story the doctor told me he had from Power, the actor. Knowles and Power were together. Knowles says:—
"'Power, have you any commands for Ireland? I'm just going over.'
" Power replied:—
"'No — but to what part are you going?'
"'Oh,' answers Sheridan, 'I haven't made up my mind yet.'
"'Think; says the doctor, of a man asking another for commands, when he didn't know to what part he was going.'
"Another story he told me of Ude, the French cook. The soup was brought in; Ude tasted it, and turning to the unfortunate cook, who was standing by, said:—
"'Too salt — too salt! Ah, Rishard, Rishard, I vill put you under a course of physic until you recover the true taste of your palate.'
"'God knows,' added the doctor, 'I pitied the poor devil, who, I suppose, was calomelized until his livers and lights were driven out of him.'
"I told him a story of Ude. He was the head cook of the Duke of York. When the duke died, Ude said: — 'Ah, my poor master — he vill miss me veray much where he is gone.'
The doctor laughed heartily at this. He talked of Feargus O'Connor, and stated that he had just written a letter to him, condoling with him on the horrible treatment to which he is subjected in York Castle. We came on towards St. Giles' Church, and on passing it I casually remarked, that—
"'Now I knew where I was; as before I was quite ignorant of what part of London I was in.'
"He asked me, ' Have you ever been in St. Giles's, and seen the Irish?'
"I said 'No.'
"'What!' he says, 'I am ashamed of you. You shan't be in London without visiting your countrymen.'
"He then turned about, and conducted me through every part of this celebrated locale, pointing out its filthiest purlieus, and under-ground cellars.
"'Look there,' said he, as he pointed out one of the latter, which was open. I looked in: there were heaps of potatoes and all sorts of filth lying about. 'In that cellar, at least two hundred and fifty men, women, and children sleep every night. The best way to give you an idea of what St. Giles's is, that in this little parish there is a double police force.'
"I expressed to him my astonishment at the scene I witnessed, and said:—
"'I had no notion that the first visit I should pay to St. Giles's would be with Doctor Maginn.'
"He laughed at this. I asked, him—
"'Was it the worst part of London?'
"'No,' said he, 'Bermondsey is worse; but we'll soon root it out altogether. By next year we hope to get rid of it: — it is a disgrace to London, and it is exactly in the centre of it.'
"We talked of London.
"'It is,' said the doctor, 'not a city, but what a Frenchman called it, pays de villes, — a country of cities.'
"He talked of going to the British Museum. I said I had seen the library once.
"'What!' he says, 'are you not free of it?'
"I replied in the negative, but that I should have great pleasure in being so. He answered—
"'Make your mind easy; I shall do it for you in three hours.'
"He told me another story, about Dan O'Connell, with which I was much pleased. When he was placing his son Maurice under Doctor Sandes, his tutor, in Trinity College, Sandes asked him what he intended to make of Maurice? Dan replied:—
"'Sir, I intend to make him a barrister; it depends upon himself to become a lawyer.'
"This, you will see, is very smart and terse of Master Dan. Notwithstanding all the bitter songs, jests, epigrams, &c., which Maginn has written about the Liberator, he talks of him very favourably, and even with a liking. He said that he once called him 'that hoary-headed libeller, Doctor Maginn.' The doctor laughed a good deal at this reminiscence.
"One thing I like very much in the doctor, and that is, he appears the very soul of good-nature; the least look at him will show this. Indeed he seems one of the best-natured men I ever saw.
"I sat, on last Friday, two hours with Doctor Maginn in his bed-room. The doctor has been raking, I believe, since his family went to France: he was quite ill when I saw him. However, he managed to write a leader for the 'Argus' newspaper, in his shirt, and that completed, he jumped into bed, and we had a long talk. The more I see of him, the more I admire his talent. He is really a splendid fellow. He knows every thing. He will teach you as much in one hour as the best book will in ten. His conversation is the most extraordinary thing possible. He jumbles together fun, philosophy, and polemics; and in these (so incongruous) he is preeminent. At first you would say that he spent all his life reading jest-books; but then there is such admirable philosophy and common-sense in his reflections, that you get rid of your first notion as quickly as possible. But just as you are on the point of averring that this man reads nothing but works of thought and reasoning, you are forced to gulp down the exclamation, for he jumps into theology, and will argue on it like a bishop. Then you declare that he has studied nothing but polemics all his life. Such a man is Maginn. He is a ruin, but a glorious ruin, nevertheless. He takes no care of himself. Could he be induced to do so, he would he the first man of the day in literature, or any thing else. But he lives a rollicking life; and will write you one of his ablest articles while standing in his shirt, or sipping brandy — so naturally do the best and wittiest thoughts flow from his pen. His reading is immense; his memory powerful, and his knowledge of the world is perhaps equal to that of any man that ever lived. In fact, I say he knows every thing, and so he does. We talked about a war with France, about which all the John and Jenny Bulls are getting anxious. The doctor asserted stoutly that there would he none, and quoted Lord Brougham, who said, in allusion to the national debt, that England was bound in eight hundred millions to keep the peace.
"He told me a story about a sermon preached during the last war with France. The reverend preacher took for his text, Ezekiel xxxv. 3, 4. 'Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, O Mount Seir (a pun on the French monsieur) I am against thee, and I will stretch out mine hand against thee, and I will make thee most desolate. I will lay thy cities waste, and thou shalt be desolate, and then thou shalt know that I am the Lord.' This text was well applied.
"He told me another, which caused the preacher to be exalted in the church. James the First of England and Sixth of Scotland was very partial to puns of this kind. He was also, as you know, a fickle, wavering weathercock, who scarcely knew his own mind a moment, and was therefore called by Sully, the great minister of Henry the Fourth, the wisest fool in Christendom;' for with all his folly he had both cunning and knowledge. The text, in allusion to himself, was James first and sixth: — 'For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed.' After this he read the following passage from the Bible, and said that it was the true style in which English composition should be written. It is part of the dedication to the king:—
"'Great and manifold were the blessings, most dread sovereign, which Almighty God, the Father of all Mercies, bestowed upon us, the people of England, when first he sent your majesty's royal person to rule and reign over us. For whereas it was the expectation of many, who wished not well to our Sion, that upon the setting of that bright occidental star, Queen Elizabeth, of most happy memory, some thick and palpable clouds of darkness would so have overshadowed this land, that men should have been in doubt which way they were to walk, and that it should hardly be known who was to direct the unsettled state; the appearance of your majesty, as of the sun in his strength, instantly dispelled those supposed and surmised mists, and gave unto all that were well-affected exceeding cause of comfort; especially when we beheld the government established in your highness, and from the lawful seed of an undoubted title, and this also accompanied by peace and tranquillity at home and abroad.'
"I was rather surprised to hear Maginn, whose own style of composition was directly the opposite to this, speak so highly of it. After this he commenced a long discourse, in which he drew one of the most perfect parallels possible between the state of France and England, commencing with Louis the Fourteenth of France and Elizabeth of England, and drawing it down to the present time. It struck me very much. Never was so complete a parallel as that presented by the two countries. That of England ended with William the Third, to whom he likened Louis Philippe. It is impossible to describe this without entering into a long detail, but it appeared to me wonderfully clear and clever, and an admirable ground for an historical essay, if he would only set about it. But he is such a careless child of nature that he will never set about a long work. Shakspeare is a great idol of his. He is thinking of bringing out a new edition of his works, and he has read extensively and thought deeply on the subject, but I fear that laziness will get the better of him. In fact he is always running about town, and his most intimate friends have never seen him yet studying, and only very seldom composing. The sight I got of him at the latter was merely accidental."
The custom of the doctor here alluded to, of commencing long dissertations on whatever subject was uppermost in his thoughts, was a favourite one with him. Nothing was more common than for him to narrate to whoever was with him some romantic story, or ballad, which he had just composed — some scenes of a novel that he hoped to finish — or some dissertation on Fielding, Rabelais, or Lucian. He also practised the art of improvising, and succeeded in it. The ottava rima, or stanza of Pulci and Lord Byron, was that to which he was most partial. Of contemplated works, which he used thus to recite in disjecta membra to his friends, was one on the subject of "Jason," which promised well, and another was a tragedy entitled "Queen Anne." His notion of the queen was, that she should be introduced on the stage always in a state of melancholy, and lamenting the loss of her children — a notion which, however, would but badly accord with our historical knowledge of Brandy Nan.
In the latter part of this year the doctor issued a prospectus of a work to be published weekly, in numbers, at three-pence, and to be entitled "Magazine Miscellanies, by Doctor Maginn." This was intended to contain the flower of all his compositions in the different magazines to which he had contributed, and though well deserving of public support, proved a failure; and it was for the expenses incurred by this publication that he was subsequently thrown into prison. He was now rapidly sinking in the world. He had an engagement on the "Age," at a few pounds a week, which barely supported him; and his quarrel with Fraser had entirely excluded him from the magazine until the death of that gentleman, in 1841, opened its pages once again to his contributions. An incident which occurred at Mr. Fraser's funeral deserves preservation. It was but rarely that Maginn was betrayed into any thing like romance. The funeral took place at Bunhill Fields. As soon as the ceremony was over, the doctor said to the grave-digger:—
"Grave-digger, show me the tomb of John Bunyan."
The grave-digger led the way, and was followed by Maginn, who appeared particularly thoughtful. As they approached the place, the doctor turned to the person who accompanied him, and tapping him on the shoulder, said quietly — "Tread lightly."
So unusual a remark, coming from one who never exhibited any particle of the pathetic, either in his manner or conversation, attracted the attention of his companion. Maginn bent over the grave for some time in melancholy mood, and seemed unconscious of any one's presence. The bright sunshine poured around him. No more illustrious mourner ever stood beside that solitary grave. At length he seemed moved, and turning away exclaimed in deep and solemn tones, "Sleep on, thou Prince of Dreamers." He little thought then that ere another twelvemonth should have rolled over his head, he, too, should be a dweller in the land of shadows.
In the early part of the next year (1842) Maginn was thrown into prison. From Mr. Richard Oastler, "the king of the labourer's question," and the able author of the "Fleet Papers," we have received the following account of his sojourn there:—
"I wish I could comply with your request, and furnish you with a few anecdotes respecting my lamented friend Dr. Maginn; but I fear if I were to tell all I know. I should wound the feelings of many of those who hold his memory dear. The doctor died a martyr to imprisonment for debt.
"Our acquaintance commenced and ripened into friendship in a debtor's gaol — there I witnessed the ravages which that murderous spirit of covetousness is allowed to satiate itself with, even when its victim is the brightest star of Intellectual light — there I saw Maginn succumb to the powerful malice of a wretch to whom he was indebted a few pounds!
"Certain and speedy death awaited him had he remained in prison — the horror of submitting to the degradation of the Insolvent Debtors' Court, which was the only avenue for his escape, preyed like a viper on his heart. Daily and nightly I witnessed the sad effects, as the day of liberation through that court approached.
"It required all the influence his family and friends could muster, to make him resolve thus to degrade and deliver himself. I urged the situation of his children, and succeeded. Still, as the day approached, it blackened all his horizon:—
"'It will kill me Oastler; I shall never survive it,' he has often said.
He was liberated. The only remaining chance was a visit to a warmer climate. I attempted, from the 'party' which owed so much to Dr. Maginn's pen, to obtain the small sum of thirty pounds, to enable him to cross the channel. The ungrateful, nay the sordid and unfeeling Conservatives refused. Poor Maginn dragged on a few weeks and died!
"The last time I saw him was a short while before his death. He called at the Fleet, — he was skin and bone, — still his eye betokened love. He remained some time in my cell. I felt that I should see him no more. 'Twas there we first met — there we parted. When again we meet, it will be where malice will have lost its power — where charity is no longer needed.
"Poor Maginn! I never think of him but I am thankful that I was consigned to prison — else I never should have known him.
"How often have we beguiled the weary prison-hours, and robbed them of their sting.
"He would tap at the door — look in — and if I was alone, he would enter, sit down, chat, read or write, just as our convenience required.
"There he has sat, telling me one of his embryo 'tales,' — criticising a book enlightening me on many most interesting and important matters; in fact, pouring from his rich stores of knowledge, streams of information for my use. Then he would refresh my memory and delight my imagination on old English times, and describe what England was, what Englishmen were, before the 'new lights' had darkened her horizon.
"Often has he sat with me at this table; he writing his 'leader,' and I my 'Fleeter,' when we passed our slips for mutual examination. How seldom would he alter a word of mine. 'You have your own 'Oastlerian' style; I cannot mend it. Perhaps you have repeated such a word too often; so and so would be as well;' and when, as it sometimes happened, I suggested the alteration of a word in his, he would instantly adopt it; and reading the passage would lay strong emphasis on that word; adding, 'I thank you, Oastler; it's a great improvement.' I mention this to show his great humility. I am a mere babe in literature — he was a giant.
"When he was writing on questions peculiarly relating to the working classes, he would say, 'Oastler, I want you to help me; I want an article on your subject; you are the 'king of the labourer's question.' Then he would listen with such attention and humility, that I was literally ashamed when I remembered who he was.
"But the most delightful times were, when be would say, 'where is your Bible?' and then request me to read the Epistle to the Hebrews, or Romans; he would paraphrase as I read, and ask my opinion with such humility as his great friendship for me could only account for.
"Sometimes we would walk together in the dark Coffee Gallery, and then he would amuse me with an ideal romance. Thus did we spend our prison-hours; not, however, without many a time laughing at the world which had used us so badly.
"About Maginn's talents it is not for me to judge. Of his disposition, his heart, none can judge better.
"He was kind and beneficent, sincere and grateful. He was affectionate and sympathising: he was passionately attached to his children; he felt —. What I was about to write would not be appreciated in this unvirtuous age; had the age been virtuous, the doctor's feelings would have been spared."
What a deep moral is in all this! How clearly does it show that sooner or later imprudence will meet with its reward. What Maginn might have been, his writings will enable us to judge; what he was, the foregoing extract strikingly pourtrays.
Before we close the account of this period of his life, we think it advisable to insert here a few reminiscences which have been supplied to us by one who was a constant companion of the doctor, and knew his mind well. They are but, it is true, a faint specimen of what his conversation was — but, in the absence of anecdotes relative to the doctor, we think they are not uninteresting — and they are certainly just as readable, and as good as Swift and Pope's Thoughts on Various Subjects. We have added to them one or two recollections of our own, which we had not an opportunity to interweave with our memoranda as we proceeded.
Talking one day about Hogg, whom he greatly admired, he said: "In his simplicity consisted his excellence. Had he attempted anything great, he would have made himself ridiculous. He was every inch a man, full of fun and feeling, without the heaviness of Scott."
The subject turning one evening upon Coleridge, I asked him whether his conversational powers were as great as they were reported to be. He replied, "I thought him tedious at times; his discourse was a lecture; there was not any of the ease of conversation about it. What he did say never failed to be entertaining,"
Talking on one occasion about his "Shakspeare Papers," I asked him why he did not write the character of Hamlet? "I have often thought of it," he said, "but never could make up my mind to it. I'm afraid of him."
The mornings he spent reading Rabelais, who was an especial favourite of his. Once laying down the book, he said, "I think the stories he tells here were repeated during the early part of his life to a set of jovial companions. Finding little to amuse him in his old age, he wrote them more for pleasure, than for fame. It is very strange, that, in a fiction such as his, all the authorities cited in the trial chapter are genuine and correct. I once took a great deal of pains to find them out, and with few exceptions, discovered them all. I think Shakspeare studied him much. The first scene in 'the Tempest' proves it beyond a doubt. Friar John, I think, was a character that delighted him much, and one that Rabelais took the greatest pains with. There is no imitating Rabelais.
Speaking of Macnish, the modern Pythagorean, and the flattering manner in which he had spoken of the doctor, he said, "I was never in his company but once, and then he got blind drunk."
"Of all the Roman poets, Horace is the fellow for me. His recommendation is what generally spoils all other poets — the real common sense he displays in all his poems."
"Take the best novels of any of the living novelists of the day, and you will find that all their after works have the same traits of composition and plot as the first. There is not one that can be compared with Fielding or Smollett. Filling three volumes appears their principal object."
After going with his family to see Sheridan Knowles' play of Virginius, I asked him what he thought of it? "Very clever; but it is not a Roman play. With all respect for Knowles, whom I like very much, I do not think he will ever be able to produce a classical play. The poetry is pretty, but there is nothing Shakspearian about it. I have a great contempt for most actors. There is something confident about them that I dislike. The decentest of the fraternity that I ever met with, is Knowles."
I give a vote to every sane man, whose age exceeds one-and-twenty — but no ballot.
There is something so like life about the inn-keepers of Fielding, that I never can sufficiently admire them. I suppose they formed no inconsiderable majority of his acquaintance, and there is no doubt he was deep in the memory of some.
The finest piece of prose-writing that ever I read is Dr. Johnson's concluding paragraph of the preface to his dictionary.
I think Shakspeare intended the Tempest to be nothing more than a grand pantomime, in which he could lay aside all rules of composition, and allow his imagination to revel at will, without the fear of criticism; inserting in it many speeches and ideas that had long been floating in his fancy: and I think it was the last play he wrote.
The reason why we know so little of Shakspeare is, that when his business was over at the theatre, he did not mix with his fellow-actors, but stepped into his boat, and rowed up to Whitehall, there to spend his time with the Earl of Southampton, and the other gentlemen about the court.
Whenever I have time, I will write a paper on Falstaff's Page. Many a one like him have I met in my time, in the shape of a printer's devil. He is the prince of all boys.
Once at a party, where Dr. Gifford and others were present, somebody said it would be impossible to translate, in a couplet, the witty French lines written on the death of the Jansenist, Paris, in 1740 — at whose grave it was supposed miracles were performed.
De parle Roi — defense a Dieu,
De faire miracles en ce lieu.
"Pooh," said the doctor, "nothing is easier."
God save the King — but God shall not
Work any miracles in this spot.
There seems nothing very singular in this impromptu, but as it was reported to us as a very clever thing, by one of the cleverest persons we ever saw, we repeat it. We may add that, on mentioning it to Mr. James Roche, of Cork, without, at the same time, informing him of the version of Maginn, he burst out into an extempore translation, more literal than the doctor's — though the latter has introduced a smart point into his, which implies the incompatibility of God saving the King, and working a miracle. The following is Mr. Roche's version:—
The King ordains that God shall not
Work more miracles in this spot.
In the early part of 1842, Maginn was liberated from gaol. He had passed through the ordeal, from whose effects his spirits never again recovered. "I will never again raise my head in society," said he. Alas, there was but little time left for him to do so. Disease now rapidly approached, and its effects on his frame grew every day more apparent. He was ordered to Reading, but his restless spirit could not find content away from London. He seemed now to have utterly lost all care of himself. He got disgusted with life: he beheld the ingratitude of his party. On more than one occasion, he expressed to the writer of this paper the bitterness with which he felt the desertion of the Tory party — and the conviction that, had they before given him the situation of which he had long entertained hopes, he would not now be sinking rapidly into wretchedness and death. This was, he told us, a diplomatic office of some kind in Vienna. Where now were his noble friends? Where the lords, and ladies, and hollow praters, who once buzzed around him? Many of them had often expended on a dinner, or a pic-nic, ten times as much as would have saved this brilliant ornament of literature from the misery of a gaol, and the degradation of insolvency. But they were not there to succour, when succour was needed. One only exception was found — one bright example, in Sir Robert Peel — that great and splendid minister, who, having taken glory for his ambition — and who, filled with that love of renown, which an old author tells us is the spur to lofty souls, [Greek characters], generously came forward, and did all he could to alleviate the dying moments of the poet, the critic, and the scholar. But this solitary instance does not, nevertheless, veil the unthankfulness of Maginn's party — and they have given their enemies the consolation, of being enabled to parallel, by one example, at least, the death-bed of Maginn — that disgraceful blot, which ought for ever to disgrace the Whigs, and which we once hoped would stand alone — the death-bed of Sheridan.
Towards the latter part of July, a letter reached us, hastily summoning us to Walton-on-Thames, where the doctor then was, as he had expressed an ardent wish to see the writer. From the letters and memoranda written at that period, the following extracts are made:—
"I went down to Walton-on-Thames to see Dr. Maginn, about eighteen days before he died. I was prepared to find him infirm, but by no means dangerously ill. When I was ushered up stairs, the first glance I gave towards him did indeed surprise me. He was in bed, with a blue striped worsted shirt drawn tightly around him, and was supported by pillows. An old Greek Homer, on which he appeared to have been meditating, was on the bed by his side. He was quite emaciated and worn away; his hands thin, and very little flesh on his face; his eyes appeared brighter and larger than usual; and his hair was wild and disordered. He stretched out his hand and saluted me. We talked on Seneca, Homer, Socrates, Christ, Plato, and Virgil. He said that in his judgment Hardinus had settled the question that Virgil did not write the Aeneid; and that Homer meant to represent himself in the character of Ulysses. We talked of Athenaeus, Apollonius Tyaneus, and Tiberius. He mentioned the latter with respect, as a man of supreme genius, the master-genius of the Roman Emperors; and remarked what a sagacious plan he had adopted to bring Christ and Christianity into contempt, by deifying the former, and putting him in the same category with Julius Caesar and himself. This he regarded as a master-stroke of policy and cunning. We talked for two hours; I then left the room and walked about Walton. When I returned, he was up and dressed, and lying on the sofa in the dining-room. He spoke little, and did not seem in spirits. We talked a good deal at dinner: he contented himself with potatoes and butter, and partook of but a small quantity. After dinner he drank a glass of gin and water. About seven, I got up with the intention of returning home, but he pressed me to stay the night. I remained: he went to bed about nine o'clock. This was the last day he ever came down stairs or dressed. I felt the compliment that he paid me; from Maginn it was a high one. The forenoon of the next day I spent entirely with him, and returned to town about two o'clock.
"On these two occasions he told me that there was no money in the house; that he was extremely anxious to get to town to have medical advice, as he could not bring a physician down from London; that he was quite lonesome in Walton, having no one to come and speak with him. He requested me to look out for a lodging in Kensington; expressed a strong desire to go to Cove, saying he was sure a sea-voyage would serve him considerably, and told me that Dr. Ferguson had written him a letter, which recommended him to go to Cheltenham, and that he would be as well as ever in a few months; 'but,' said the doctor, 'what can I do — I have not a farthing to bless myself with.' He did not seem any way apprehensive of death. We talked of the Queen Dowager's (then) recent marvellous recovery, and it seemed to have made a strong impression on him. Judging from the state in which her Majesty was I am confident that even at that moment if the same means had been adopted with him the doctor might have been saved from death. His spirits were high and buoyant; he laughed and told stories, with as much fun and wit as ever.
"I received an invitation to come frequently; this I think was on the 2d or 3d of August. I went down again on that day week. The doctor repeated to me the deplorable way in which he was, and wished me to buy and bring him down the Anti-Homeric Poems, just published by Didot. He said they would cost me eighteen shillings: 'they will bring me in four or five guineas,' says he, 'which will be good profit.'
"On the 11th of August, I wrote to Sir Robert Peel: on the following Saturday I went down to Walton, and remained there till Sunday night. He asked me to lend him fifteen pounds, as he was in utter want. 'I have not money enough,' said he, 'to buy a leg of mutton.' I told him I should bring it to him.
In a letter written home that night I find the following passages:—
"Sunday Night, August 15, 1842.
"'I have just come up from Walton in company with —. I do not suppose that the poor doctor will survive the week. When I was down with him last week he was able to stir about, and used to dress himself, but now all is changed. He cannot even lift himself in the bed without help, and death is already pictured in his countenance. To give you an idea of his weakness: I sat with him this evening after dinner for a considerable time. He was then sitting up in his arm chair with blankets and flannels about him. He got tired, and requested me to put him to bed. You know that I am not the stoutest person in the world, and the doctor was always twice my size; yet I was strong enough to carry him across the room, and put him into bed just as if he were a little child. He is reduced to a mere skeleton, skin and bone; and whatever he drinks must be lifted to his mouth, so weak and quivering is his hand. He told me a number of amusing things, for he has scarcely any idea of death — I say scarcely, for he sometimes alludes to it, but in his own humorous, simple, careless way.
"As soon as the doctor had concluded, he dictated some lines of a Homeric Ballad to me. I suppose they are the last he will ever write on this earth, for he is sinking away like the flame of a dying lamp, and a puff would extinguish him. His eyes retain all their softness. (I think I mentioned to you some years ago, that they were the mildest I ever saw,) but are larger and brighter than before, and his intellect has not lost one atom of its clearness, wisdom, and beauty. His voice is a mere whisper; he cannot speak a word with any loudness, but all in a low subdued whisper, and he coughs dreadfully. His breathing is quick, and you can hear the rattling of his lungs as he inhales the air. He is subject to most strange fancies. Sometimes he thinks himself sinking in the bed, and grasps the clothes to support himself. There is a little closet in the room; the door of it was open, and he said he saw a man there with a drawn sword. He got it shut up. 'I've just been talking to Letitia — she has been here an hour,' said he the other day to Mrs. R—, 'she sat there, just opposite.' He told me that he saw horrid threatening faces all about him at times. 'I know,' said he, 'that it is all delusion, but then the fancy is just as bad as if they were real.'
"On Tuesday night, the 17th of August, I got a letter from the secretary of Sir Robert Peel, (the late Mr. Edward Drummond,) stating that the premier had taken measures for the relief of Dr. Maginn. On the following day I went down to Walton with Mr. Drummond's letter; but his family had not seen fit to apprize him of the premier's generosity. On this occasion he again alluded to his poverty, and the ingratitude of his party. In fact, he seemed to have no other trouble on his mind. On Thursday evening I left Walton: I never again saw him alive. He died on the following Saturday; and I firmly believe died in ignorance of the splendid gift of the prime minister of England — a gift that would have afforded him much consolation in his dying moments."
He was buried on Monday, August 29 — a day of sunshine, of thunder, and lightning. The church re-echoed peal after peal, of the most appalling thunder during the reading of the service. As the coffin moved to the grave, the flashes and the peals became terrific — no rain or cloud, no mist or shadow was in the beautiful sky. When the coffin was lowered down, the thunder passed away, and left the sunshine over his grave undisturbed and radiant.
The following "Fragment" on his death was published soon after. It partakes of the wild scene it commemorates:—
The dead bells were tolling,
The thunders were rolling,
The big clouds were clashing,
The fierce lightning flashing
But yet from the heaven
The sun was not driven,
Its beams glitter'd o'er him,
As slowly we bore him
The sunlight so splendid,
With thunder thus blended,
The red eyes of lightning,
The atmosphere bright'ning,
Who wept there and trembled,
But think it resembled
The giant mind broken,
By sorrows unspoken
For strong as the thunder
That rends rocks asunder,
Was he, when God-gifted,
His bright mind uplifted
And gentle and beaming,
Like sunshine in seeming,
His spirit was moulded—
And fondness enfolded
The prayers they were mutter'd,
The answers half stutter'd,
The parson off started,
The clerk, too, departed
But the Spirit of Thunder
Stood there in his wonder,
With Lightning his Brother,
To guard one and t' other,
The portrait of Maginn prefixed to this essay is an admirable likeness, and does great credit to the artist, Mr. Samuel Skillin, of Cork.