1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Charles Hanbury Williams

Robert Carruthers, in Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, 3rd ed. (1876; 1879) 3:384-86.



As a satirical poet, courtier, and diplomatist, Sir Charles Hanbury Williams (1709-1759) enjoyed great popularity during the latter part of the reign of George II. Lord Hervey, Lord Chesterfield, Pulteney, and others, threw off political squibs and light satires; but Williams eclipsed them all in liveliness and pungency. He was introduced into public life by Sir Robert Walpole, whom he warmly supported. "He had come, on the death of his father, Mr. Hanbury, into parliament in 1733, having taken the name of Williams for a large estate in Monmouthshire, left to him by a godfather who was no relation. After his celebrated political poetry in ridicule of Walpole's antagonists, having unluckily lampooned Isabella, Duchess of Manchester, with her second husband, Mr. Hussey, an Irish gentleman, and his countrymen, he retreated, with too little spirit, from the storm that threatened him into Wales, whence he was afterwards glad to accept missions to the courts of Dresden, Berlin, and Russia." One verse of this truculent satire may be quoted:

But careful Heaven reserved her Grace
For one of the Mileslan race
On stronger parts depending:
Nature, indeed, denies them sense,
But gives them legs and impudence,
That beats all understanding.

Pulteney, in 1742, succeeded in procuring the defeat and resignation of his rival Sir Robert Walpole, and was himself elevated to the peerage under the title of Earl of Bath. From this period he sank from popular favour into great contempt, and some of the bitterest of Williams's verses were levelled at him. In his poem of the "Statesman," he thus characterises the new peer:

When you touch on his lordship's high birth,
Speak Latin as if you were tipsy;
Say we are all but the sons of the earth,
"Et genus non fecimus ipsi."

Proclaim him as rich as a Jew,
Yet attempt not to reckon his bounties,
You may say he is married, 'tis true,
Yet speak not a word of the countess.

Leave a blank here and there in each page,
To enrol the fair deeds of his youth;
When you mention the acts of his age.
Leave a blank for his honour and truth.

Say he made a great monarch change hands;
He spake — and the minister fell;
Say he made a great statesman of Sands—
Oh, that he had taught him to spell.

In another attack on the same parties, we have this pointed verse:

How Sands, in sense and person queer,
Jumped from a patriot to a peer
No mortal yet knows why;
How Pulteney trucked the fairest fame
For a Right Honourable name
To call his vixen by.

Such pasquinades, it must be confessed, are as personal and virulent as any of the subsequent political poetry of the Rolliad or Anti-Jacobin Review. The following is a more careful specimen of Williams's character-painting. It is part of a sketch of General Churchill — a man not unlike Thackeray's Major Pendennis:

None led through youth a gayer life than he,
Cheerful in converse, smart in repartee.
But with old age its vices came along,
And in narration he's extremely long.
Exact in circumstance, and nice in dates,
On every subject he his tale relates.
If you name one of Marlbro's ten campaigns,
He tells you its whole history for your pains,
And Blenheim's field becomes by his reciting
As long in telling as he was in fighting;
His old desire to please is well expressed,
His hat's well cocked, his periwig's well dressed;
He rolls his stockings still, white gloves he wears,
And in the boxes with the beaux appears;
His eyes through wrinkled corners cast their rays,
Still he bows graceful, still soft things he says:
And, still remembering that he once was young,
He strains his crippled knees and struts along.
The room he entered smiling, which bespoke
Some worn-out compliment or threadbare joke;
For, not perceiving loss of parts, he yet
Grasps at the shade of his departed wit.

In 1822, the fugitive poetry of Williams was collected and published in three volumes; but the work is carelessly edited, and many gross pieces not written by the satirical poet were admitted.