1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Wilson

William Maginn, "Gallery of Literary Characters: John Wilson Esq." Fraser's Magazine 3 (April 1831) 364.



PROFESSOR WILSON! — What can be said of Professor Wilson worthy of his various merits? — Nothing. Were we to reprint Lockhart's graphic account of him in Peter's Letters, it would not tell half his fame. A poet who, after having had the calamity of obtaining Oxford prizes, and incurred the misfortune of being praised by the Edinburgh Review for some juvenile indiscretions in the way of rhyme, wrote the City of the Plague, which even the envious Lord Byron placed among the great works of the age, and which all real critics put higher than his poetical Lordship's best productions in the way of Tragedy; — a moral Professor, who "dings down" the fame of Dugald Stewart — a paltry triumph we own, if truly considered, over a small person, but a triumph of no trivial moment if the voice of Edinburgh be counted of any avail, — an orator who, sober or convivial, morning or evening, can pour forth gushes of eloquence the most stirring, and fun the most rejoicing; — a novelist, who has chosen a somewhat peculiar department, but who in his Lights and Shadows, &c. &c. gives forth continually fine touches of original thought, and bursts of real pathos; — a sixteen stoner, who has tried it, without the gloves, with the Game Chicken, and got none the worse; — a cocker, a racer, a six bottler, a twenty-four tumblerer — an out-and-outer — a true, upright, knocking-down, poetical, prosaic, moral, professorial, hard-drinking, fierce-eating, good-looking, honourable, and straight-forward Tory. Let us not forget, that he has leapt twenty-seven feet in a standing leap, on plain ground! — [Byron never ceased boasting of the petty feat of swimming three or four miles with the tide, as something wondrous. What is it to Wilson's leaping?] — a gipsy, a magaziner, a wit, a six-foot-club man, an unflinching Ultra in the worst of times! — In what is he not great?

"Show this to Wilson," says the said Lord Byron, in one of his letters published by that respectable gentleman, Thomas Moore, "show this to Wilson, for I like the man, and care little for his magazine." Lord B. wrote this under the impression that Wilson was the editor of Blackwood; and as common fame agrees with his Lordship's conjecture, we have ventured to affix to the Professor's portrait, the title of CHRISTOPHER NORTH. We hope he will not be angry with us for so doing, because it is done "honoris causa," as Sir C. Wetherell would say. Who is there that does not distinguish the Professor's hand amid the adjoining Balaam, and rejoice over the mingled mirth and melancholy, the humour and poetry, the eloquence and buffoonery, the gravity and the gaiety of those fitful productions which, under one strange name or another, gleam forth every now and then in brilliant contrast with the lack lustre and miserable paste by which they are surrounded.

In the opposite Plate, he is depicted as he appears in his countryman Macdonald's admirable statue. Perhaps other positions less severe and stony might be more characteristic, but we had no objection that the picture of the poet should call attention to the works of the statuary. In the back ground are seen the University, of which Wilson is the most distinguished ornament — a fistic contest, such as his Boxiana sketches have embalmed — and the rudiments of a cock-fight which, coming under the general head of "Varment," falls within the province of his frolic pen. The Professor's wig, and the crutch of the rheumatic Mr. North, have their appropriate place in the picture; and it our readers regret that we have found no room for a symbol, emblematic of his tragedy, in our plate, they will, in all probability, have found plague enough in getting through our illustrative letterpress. Farewell!

Haec dictans raptim mediis in fluctibus urbis,
Propino poculum, Wilsone care, tibi!