1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Meyler

Joseph Hunter, "Memoir of the late William Meyler" Weekly Entertainer and West of England Miscellany [Sherborne] NS 3 (21 May 1821) 381-85.



"A merrier man
Within the limit of becoming mirth
I never spent an hour's talk withal;
His eye begot occasion for his wit;
For every object that the one did catch
The other turned to a mirth moving jest;
Which his fair tongue, (Conceit's Expositor)
Delivered in such apt and gracious words,
That aged years played truant at his tales,
And younger hearings were quite ravished.
So sweet and voluble was his discourse."
SHAKSPEARE.

It is no common feelings which actuate us in endeavouring to record a memoir of the deceased friend, whose name stands at the head of this article. To describe the occupations of genius, and trace the events which have marked the life of one whose head and heart alike demand our admiration, is no doubt a delightful labour; but in the present instance, pleasure resulting from the contemplation of such qualities, is, in no slight degree, checked by the sigh of regret from the intimate knowledge of them while they yet existed, and from the recollection that they exist no longer. Our materials for this brief notice are scanty; but they were furnished by the lips of its lamented subject, and stamped on our memory by esteem and regard.

William Meyler was born at Newburg, in the Isle of Anglesea, December 13, 1755. His family was respectable; and, with the customary genealogical predilections of the Cambrian character, traced their pedigree to a period early in British History. Valiant warriors and enraptured minstrels were among their ancestors; but, as Mr. Meyler himself used to remark, it was the latter alone whose dispositions were hereditary in the family, and to which his own could claim affinity In the island of his birth, the ancient Mona of the Druids, whose dark groves, and immense mounds of earth, remain as relics of their worship, it is probable the mind of the future poet became impressed with the associations of fancy. At length in his 9th year, at which period he was utterly unacquainted with any language except his native Welch, it was thought high time that some attention should be paid to his education. His uncle, the Rev. Thomas Meyler, was at that period the highly respected master of the Free-Grammar school at Marlborough, and thither it was determined he should be sent. Accordingly, mounted on a little Welch poney, and escorted by a relative, he quitted his home, — which he saw but once afterwards.

His progress at school was rapid, and his improvement both in classical knowledge, and in those departments of education more adapted to a commercial life, so satisfactory by the time he had reached his twelfth year, that it was determined he should now make choice of a profession. That of a bookseller, so congenial to the disposition of young Meyler, was quickly determined on, and, at Bath, a city rapidly rising into fashion, and improving in beauty and extent, a situation was found in the shop of Mr. Tennent.

Whatever ideas might have floated in the mind of the young bookseller as to the means of improvement which his situation would afford him he found that reading books and selling them were distinct operations — as much so as the business of a turnspit dog, and the enjoyment of a hungry guest. His labour in binding was incessant from morning till night; and no crime could be greater in the eyes of his austere employer than daring to suffer his eyes to look at the leaves of a book while his hands ought to have been engaged in adorning its covers.

A merry and contented spirit, however, lasted him through the term of his apprenticeship; and all the vigilance of Tennent had not prevented the private appearance of several pieces of poetry, which attracted the attention of his master's customers.

In 1781 he commenced business for himself, in the Grove; and his talent and humour contributed not a little to increase the number of his customers. Previous to this, however, he had published an elegy on the death of a Mr. Eccles, who was drowned in attempting to save a person who had fallen into the Avon. This gentleman had taken advantage of the anonymous publication of "The Man of Feeling," to claim it as his own, and actually carried a MS. copy of it in his pocket. To this delightful tale frequent allusions were made in the poem, which called forth an expostulation from the real author, Mackenzie, and which were of course afterwards explained. He also published a poetical tale under the title of "John and Susan; or the Intermeddler Rewarded," which, as well as the former, was very favourably noticed by the reviews of the day.

At this time, also, the elegant Society established by Lady Miller, at Batheaston Villa, was in the height of its fashion and enjoyments. A subject was periodically given, and the author of the best poem was rewarded by a wreath of myrtle. Among the candidates on these occasions were to be found, Anstey, Garrick, Graves, Miss Seward, &c.; and notwithstanding the sneers of Horace Walpole, who, in spite of the late assertions of Lord Byron, was more the gentleman than the genius, these are names which must rescue the institution from ridicule. Mr. Meyler's efforts at Batheaston were frequently successful, and procured him the friendship of Anstey and Graves, with whom he remained in strict intimacy, till the time of their respective deaths; and he has perpetuated his regard. and admiration for them in an elegant monody, in which he has given excellent imitations of the stile of each. Fashion is never without its vassals, worthy as well as unworthy; and Lady Miller's society was frequented by many, who desired the fame which attended the successful candidates without the talents which would acquire it. For individuals such as these, Mr. Meyler's talents were laid under contribution, and many a time has his pulse beat with delight at the praise bestowed upon his compositions, while the reputation went to some fashionable fribble,

"Who never wrote, except upon a card"

The year 1793, was an important period in the life of Mr. Meyler. On the 3d of March, appeared the first number of "The Bath Herald," of which he became the Editor; and on the same day was commenced "The Bath Register," in opposition to it. Most of the principal Attorneys and Auctioneers of the city were proprietors of the Register — but it was soon found to he an unprofitable speculation; and a coalition was formed with the Herald. But here, among so many partners, the expenditure became greater than the receipts, and on the 27th June, 1795, the property became totally invested in the indefatigable Editor. In the progress of opposition between the two papers, Mr. Meyler wrote an Epigram, which, at the time, excited no common acrimony in the adverse party; but, at present, can only cause a harmless smile, should this sketch chance to fall under the notice of any of the respectable individuals who formed the co-partnership of the Register — it ran thus:

If a story you'd wish to be spread the town round,
Go tell it to Blab as a secret profound;
But if 'tis a secret you'd hush every word of,
Let the Register print it — 'twill never be heard of.

The year 1793 was also a period which rendered the subject of this memoir conspicuously estimable in the eyes of his fellow-citizens. The outrages of Jacobinism had then risen to a fearful height, and the principles of the French Revolution had been industriously disseminated through the country. Nowhere could they be found more deeply rooted than among certain classes in the city of Bath; but there were also other classes equally warm and zealous in their attachment to their Monarch and the Constitution, and the latter certainly comprised the first men, for fortune, rank, and influence, in the city. Among these gentlemen an association was formed for the express purpose of suppressing "Republicans and Levellers," and to this society Mr. Meyler was appointed secretary. Being in a situation, which, in every respect, accorded with his talents as a nervous writer, and with his feelings as a loyal subject, he entered into it with considerable spirit. The energy of his mind was then equalled by the activity of his body; he was seen in all places, and known by all persons; he read, wrote, and talked to all societies on the Reform in which he was engaged; and his personal influence had so much more effect than could have been expected from the subordinate situation he held, that his name became extremely popular, and the friendship his conduct at that period acquired him with the first characters in the city, lasted through life. Nor were these exertions, it may be imagined, without influence on the minds of those gentlemen of the Corporation, who, in the year 1801, elected him by a majority of voices, against two powerful opponents, a Member of the Common Council. In the management of municipal affairs Mr. Meyler was found highly active and intelligent, and his opinion had considerable weight in the Chamber.

Another feature in which Mr. Meyler may be said to have acquired no inconsiderable portion of credit was his talent as a Free Mason; the brethren of which craft acknowledged, that in all the points which constitute a good mason, he was pre-eminently excellent; for several years he was Deputy Provincial Grand Master for the county, and transacted the business of his office with diligence and intelligence.

In the mean time, prosperity attended the commercial endeavours of Mr. Meyler: his shop, as we have seen, was the resort of men most likely to be of use to him; and his paper was progressively advancing to popularity. In the management of it he found pleasure as well as profit; and it is not too much to say of it, that its pages present as agreeable and interesting a series of articles as are to be found in any similar publication of the day. The scandalous inuendo and the abuse of party he despised and avoided; whilst the flowers of modern literature, the pointed epigram, judicious criticism, and lively description of the gaieties of the city, were, and are the distinguishing characteristics of the Bath Herald [author's note: Under the management of Mr. T. Meyler, the eldest son of the deceased, whose principles and talents are every way worthy his reverend father].

In 1806, Mr. Meyler published a collection of his poems, under the title of "Poetical Amusement on the journey of Life." Colonel Leigh, an intimate friend of Mr. Meyler, and Equerry to his present Majesty, then Prince of Wales, having mentioned the forthcoming volume, his Royal Highness, who had seen and admired the author, directed Colonel M'Mahon to state that a dedication to him would he an acceptable compliment. The volume appeared, and was worthy of the high patronage bestowed on it.

Serious poetry was not Mr. Meyler's forte — there was feeling in it, and elegant expression, but it will not bear comparison with his lighter style. Perhaps his Prologues, Epilogues, and Theatrical Addresses, equal if not excel those of any other writer. Garrick has been looked up to as the model of this description of poetry, but we question if any of that writer can excel "Blissett's Farewell," "Old Crop," "The Thespian Farmer," &c. &c. for terseness of language, genuine point, and apt allusion, which combine to produce that sudden effect, so necessary to succeed on the stage. His Epigrammatic turn was also of a very felicitous description; and if his native good temper had not suppressed the vein for such pointed sallies, he had talents, which, united with his opportunities for publication would have kept the city in no ordinary state of turmoil and bickering; but it may with truth be said that he rarely made an enemy, and never deserved one. We have given one specimen of his jeux d'esprit, and another may be selected as among his best efforts, which he wrote, or rather spoke on the notorious Philip Thicknesse, who left him in a rage one day, vowing that in consequence of a petty affront, he would never enter his shop again, and that he should lose not only his custom, but that of "all his friends;"

"Affront me!" cries Phil, "all my friends you shall lose,
Then mark the decay of your trade!"
"Oh Sir! if in lieu I've the tythe of your foes,
By heaven my fortune is made."

Thicknesse did quit the shop, and, while he remained in Bath, never entered it again; but the day before he left the city on his continental tour, (in which this eccentric character met the fate of all mortals) he called Mr. Meyler into the Grove, said he could not bear to part in enmity with him, — shook his hand heartily, and placed a ring on his finger, as a mark of his esteem.

About this time, we believe, the gout, with which Mr. Meyler had at intervals been long afflicted, took entire possession of his lower extremities, and confined him continually to his seat. With his power of motion, however, he did not lose any of the activity of his mind, or the cheerfulness of his disposition; and these attracted to his sick chamber every person of literary celebrity who resided in, or visited the city. Drs. Harington and Valpy, Mr. Pratt, Mr. Bowles, Mr. Kemble, Mrs. Siddons, &c. &c. were among his most intimate visitors, Dr. Harington,* indeed, who was quite blind for a long time previous to his death, for many years, spent some part or every day with his lame friend — and this exhibition of the superiority of the mind over the infirmities of the body, as displayed in their conversation, was a treat often enjoyed by the writer of this article. The extensive learning and research of the venerable Physician was admirably contrasted with the playful wit and amusing anecdote of Mr. Meyler, and they produced together a verification of that hackneyed but elegant line—

"The feast of reason and the flow of soul."

But the manner of Mr. Meyler's conversation was no less admirable than its matter. In relating his anecdotes, as it has been remarked elsewhere, "his rapid transitions of face and voice, expressive of humour or pathos as the subject varied, gave to every story the air of a little drama." Another ornament of his colloquial powers was the variety and aptness of his poetical quotation, which he delivered in a style of chastened declamation, peculiarly his own. Indeed, he once performed the part of Richard III. for the benefit of a charity at Bath, and it was the general opinion of a crowded audience, that had he adopted the stage as a profession, the highest walk both in tragedy and comedy would have been open to his talents. Nor was his power of pleasing reserved for visitors only, as is too frequently the case; it was equally employed to cheer his family circle, and make merry his domestic hearth. His bodily sufferings, indeed, had given a degree of irascibility to his temper; but he kept in view the Christian principle, and very rarely "suffered the sun toga down upon his wrath." The excellence of his natural disposition was displayed in his behaviour in all the natural relations of life; and never was an institution started for the benefit of his fellow citizens, but it found an able support in his pen and his purse.

We have already noticed one compliment paid by Royalty to the subject of this memoir; in the year 1817, during the Queen's visit to Bath, she also honoured Mr. Meyler with her particular notice. When she visited the Guildhall, her Majesty stood beside his wheel-chair, in the Banqueting-room. and conversed with him a considerable time, nor could his respect for her rank, check the continual flow of his humour. The Queen appeared highly amused with his sallies, and afterwards, having made a sarcastic remark on the size of one of the gentlemen of the Common-Council, she expressed her regret to Sir G. Gibbes, remarking that "I conversed so long with that merry friend of yours, Mr. Meyler, that I caught some of his spirit, and could not have checked myself for the world."

The three last years of Mr. Meyler's life were spent in almost incessant pain. Asthma, combined with gout, continually affected him; and at the commencement of 1821, though not obliged to keep his bed, it was evident that the close of his sufferings was at hand. The fire of his brilliant eye was dimmed — his form was wasted away — the play of wit was exchanged for frequent ejaculations. These spoke the state of his body, though his affection for his family forbade the utterance of the forebodings which oppressed him. At length, on the 10th of March, without a groan, or even a sigh, closed his valuable life. On the following Saturday he was interred in the Abbey-Church in as private manner as possible; but the way through which the procession passed, was crowded by his fellow citizens, anxious to see the last of a man, who had occupied so large a portion of public attention, and who was never known but to be admired, esteemed, and revered.

Mr. Meyler was twice married his second wife has survived him, who, with two sons, and two daughters, derive every alleviation of their grief from the universal respect which is paid to his memory.

It is unnecessary to draw any elaborate portrait of Mr. Meyler's character — the events we have detailed, and the casual remarks we have interspersed will enable the reader to estimate it correctly.

Trusting that this record of his worth will be acceptable to those who loved him, we shall here close the memoir of a friend, whose equal we never expect to call by "that dear name" again, with the parting exclamation, — HAIL! and FAREWELL!