1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges

William Maginn, "Gallery of Literary Characters: Sir Egerton Brydges" Fraser's Magazine 9 (February 1834) 146.



SIR EGERTON BRYDGES is indeed a veteran in literature. Many are our grey-headed readers who will call to mind the pensive pleasure which they experienced when reading Mary de Clifford, in the days of their youth. His subsequent works are far too numerous for us to mention, even by their names, without departing from our plan of brief biographical notices; but the omission is of little importance, as he has inserted a complete list in one or more of his recent productions. Several of them are already dear to the bibliomaniac, and, as years roll by, others will become so, in consequence of the very few copies which he has allowed to be printed; and this remark is more particularly applicable to those published on the Continent. Descended from a long line of illustrious ancestors, and firmly convinced of the justice of his claim, Sir Egerton endeavoured to prove his right to a seat in the House of Lords. But his efforts were not crowned with success; and the disappointment in that great object of his ambition unhappily passed not over him as the shadow of the summer cloud. It left upon his mind painful and enduring impressions, which he is little inclined to conceal; and a querulous tone, a sense of injury, and something too nearly akin to misanthropy, are, ever and anon, prominent in most of his subsequent lucubrations, which, amid the gloom, are, however, redolent with the ripe fruits of experience and deep meditation. These may be plucked by a select few. who are not to be deterred from the gathering by briars and brambles around the trunk of the aged tree but the many will pass by. They must be attracted, or, at least, not repelled and it is not more true that "every heart knoweth its own bitterness," than that the "stranger intermeddleth not therewith." We take this to be a principal reason why divers of his works are but little read; for a pleasant and profitable collection might Sir Egerton make from his desultory and almost unknown writings (such as the Veredica, Decapentaca, &c.), could he but resolve to forget himself.

For some years past he has resided in the neighbourhood of Geneva, not as a misanthrope, but mingling with society, and moving therein with the placid ease and politeness of the old school. When his countrymen contrived to get up private theatricals at the "Cassino," prologues and epilogues were forthcoming from the pen of the writer of the well-known sonnet, Echo and Silence; and he is ever ready to assist in promoting the happiness of others. Such are the sunny hours of his existence: but, when alone, it is to be feared that an habitual cloud hovers over his spirit, darkly tinting with its shadow "the thick-coming fancies" which he is ever committing to paper; and few writers are more systematically engaged. It is in what we term the dead of night — at four in the morning — that this veteran commences the daily task, which habit and all active mind concur in summoning him to perform as a duty. It was recently his boast that, for a period of many months, he had every morning seen the sun rise over the Lake of Geneva; and that, before the rest of the world was moving, he had done his "day's work." He was then residing at a villa (the grounds of which joined those of "Les Delices," formerly the residence of Voltaire), about a mile and a half from Geneva, and was in the habit of walking into town almost daily, to read the papers and gossip, even as others "whom nature makes by the gross, and sets no mark upon them." Since that period he has removed farther from the town; but, as we hear, his habits continue unchanged — and the consequence must be an immense accumulation of manuscripts, the greater portion of which will probably, in due course, be sent to the press, as he has never evinced an inclination to "hide his light under a bushel." Many of his works, indeed, have been published at a great expense and loss to himself, owing to causes which no doubt he clearly foresaw, — such as the small number of copies printed, the comparatively few persons on the spot who read English, and the impossibility of exciting general interest towards bibliomaniac and genealogical inquiry. These repeated sacrifices bear witness that Sir Egerton has not been urged on in his literary career by the "auri sacra fames." To use a common but expressive term, writing is his "hobby;" and many a pleasant hour do we sincerely wish him therewith, whether gaily cantering round the flowery meads of poesy, or slowly and patiently threading the formidable mazes of genealogical trees, detecting, ever and anon, relics of the olden time, and ruins of mighty houses.