1835 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alaric Alexander Watts

William Maginn, "Gallery of Literary Characters: Mr. Alaric Attila Watts" Fraser's Magazine 11 (June 1835) 652.



We are not particularly sure what our friend The Etcher meant by exhibiting Watts in the position in which he is on the opposite page depicted. The attitude of flying down stairs with a picture under either arm, and a countenance indicative of caution, is remarkable. Our artist can possibly explain this, as it is all in his and his brethren's way. It is their business, and not ours: we know nothing about it.

When a controversy sprung up some years ago between Alaric Watts and Robert Montgomery, one of the objects of discussion concerned the names of the distinguished disputants. Watts maintained that the author of the Omnipresence was the son of a clown, at Bath, named Gomery; in return, Montgomery, who, allowing that as Watts was the lawfully begotten son of a respectable nightman of the name of Joseph Watts, on the New Road, he had a fair title to the patronymic, denied that he had any claim to the Gothic appellation of Alaric. "The man's name," said Montgomery, "is Andrew."

The Quarterly Reviewer evidently was unaware of the source from which the calumny regarding the Omnipresent Poet emanated. It is probable that the last-named gentleman has to thank this pseudo-satirist for more favours than he is aware of.

As to the said "Andrew," surely it is a matter of no importance. Notwithstanding his many attempts that way, Watts has scarcely earned the title of "Merry Andrew;" his jests being, in sooth, the most melancholy of all utterances, without being the most musical. We feel bound to add, however, that it is not very likely, in the usual chances of events, that such names as Alaric Attila Watts should have met in matrimony with those of Zillah Madonna Wiffen; and an unkind world may suspect a mystification somewhere, if the scraggiest part of the neck of the world should trouble itself about such things. For us, it is sufficient to know that such a person, whether Andrew or Alaric, exists as a scribbling man. He and Bunn began life together in, we think, a medical board off Clarges Street, or thereabouts, and they have continued to be particular friends ever since. Watts, having a taste for literature, was employed to write letterpress for the Kit Kat Club, which Croker demolished in quick time; and we find the ex-secretary refers in one of his articles in the very last Quarterly with satisfaction to the deed. He then got employed in the Leeds Intelligencer, being sped from which, he tried his hand again in London, and got up a Souvenir. It was his merit to improve upon Ackermann, from whom, however, he stole the idea. He had previously written for Jerdan's Gazette, in which his chief occupation was to prove that Lord Byron was no poet. The people in Blackwood, who had some reason in those days for patronising Byron, tore the poor Goth to pieces; and he begged pardon on both knees, which was graciously granted, on the condition of his becoming flunky to Mr. North — a duty which he very observantly performed. After floundering about in various speculations in London, he is now head nurse of an hospital of rickety newspaperlings, which breathe but to die.

He has some talent in writing verses on children dying of colic, and a skill in putting together fiddle-faddle fooleries which look pretty in print. In other respects, he is forty-one years old, of an unwashed appearance, no particular principles, with well bitten nails and a great genius for backbiting. There is not a man to whom he has been under an obligation, from Jerdan to Lockhart, from Theodore Hook to Westmacott, from Andrews to Whittaker, from Crofton Croker to Carter Hall, from Wordsworth to Byron, from Scott to Southey, from Landseer to Wilkie, from the man who has fed him from charity to the man who has from equal charity supported his literary repute, whom he has not in his poor way libelled. We are sorry for it, for his own sake. Such a course redounds to a man's mischief. His Souvenir has lately, for, we doubt not, very good reasons, been subjected to changes; and, as mutability and mortality are yoke-fellows, may ere long, it is probable, undergo the final one. In such case, we little anticipate its immortality elsewhere. The memories committed to its keeping, we are afraid, have a too-fair chance of perishing. Would it not have been better for him to have avoided slander, gossip, ill-nature, libel, and scandal, and gone through the world as quietly as we have? Perhaps he may yet mend.